Tag Archives: Lizzie Clachan

Far Away

★★½

 Donmar Warehouse

Far Away

Far Away

 Donmar Warehouse

Reviewed – 14th February 2020

★★½

 

“hits its most climactic point with a whole third of the script still to go”

 

If you ever did an A-Level in Drama in sixth form or college, chances are you already know Caryl Churchill’s work quite well, and had probably exhaustively analysed every detail of her scripts through waffling and meandering essays. For those for whom Far Away was one of those plays (like myself), actually seeing it performed in the Donmar Warehouse’s new production directed by Lyndsey Turner will no doubt be an exhilarating experience, although the extent to which it stands up to those reams of analysis, especially in our current socio-political climate, is arguable.

Far Away happens in three distinct sections. The first sees a young Joan (Sophie Ally and Abbiegail Mills) disturbing her aunt Harper (Jessica Hynes) late at night, unable to sleep after having seen something shocking and violent outside. The scene carries tension masterfully as Harper tries to weave a false narrative that explains away what Joan saw, only for Joan to drop a series of atom bomb revelations about what she experienced. The second section builds on the deceit of the first by portraying Joan now as a young adult (Aisling Loftus), starting a new job designing hats for a forthcoming parade alongside seasoned hat-maker Todd (Simon Manyonda). Todd slowly starts to disrupt the worldview that Harper’s lies had entrenched in Joan, as the true nature of the hat parade is unveiled in the most breathtaking moment of whole play. Which, if you’re keeping count, is an issue because Far Away hits its most climactic point with a whole third of the script still to go.

The final section jumps forward in time once more, while also jumping stylistically from straightforward realism to nigh-on absurdism, as the characters explain how enemies in the all-out war that’s erupted have weaponised the likes of mosquitoes and light, but that Latvian dentists can be trusted. Perhaps it’s an exploration of mankind’s tendency towards destruction and violence and how it will eventually embroil everything with it. Perhaps it’s a comment on paranoia and conspiracy theorists. Or perhaps it means nothing at all. It feels so much like stepping into a completely different play rather than a continuation of the one that’s just preceded it that it practically renders the previous two sections irrelevant. The complete abandonment of the momentum that had been built prior also grinds the final scene down to what is essentially a ten page exposition dump – the characters are indiscernible, the inter-relationships are meaningless, and the dialogue is filled with sluggish lists.

Every aspect of Far Away which had previously been stellar falls to the wayside at this point – Lizzie Clachan’s striking and ominous design that reveals more of its world as the script does finds itself with nothing to do; likewise with Peter Mumford’s foreboding lighting. Where Hynes and Manyonda at first carried driving undertones of dark, shady deeds being done just out of sight juxtaposing with Loftus’ innocence, the play’s conclusion leaves them directionless as Turner can’t successfully find the connective sinew between the final scene and the first two. The result is a deeply anticlimactic play, that offers as much dystopian insight as the likes of The Hunger Games – that’s not a knock against The Hunger Games, but without its thrills and action, Far Away delivers pretty much the same experience as just turning on the news.

 

Reviewed by Ethan Doyle

Photography by Johan Persson

 


Far Away

 Donmar Warehouse until 28th March

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Appropriate | ★★★★ | August 2019
[Blank] | ★★★★ | October 2019
Teenage Dick | ★★★★ | December 2019

 

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The Son

The Son

★★★★★

Duke of Work’s Theatre

The Son

The Son

Duke of York’s Theatre

Reviewed – 3rd September 2019

★★★★★

 

“an ordinary play in so many ways, and yet it is simultaneously extraordinary”

 

Everything about The Son is arresting. It is difficult to watch and even harder not to.

This is the final play in Florian Zeller’s loosely connected familial trilogy, which began with 2012’s The Father. Here we join Anne (Amanda Abbington) and Pierre (John Light), a divorced couple who must reconnect for the sake of their only son. Nicolas (Laurie Kynaston) has been a completely different person since the divorce, and now Anne can no longer cope with his self-isolation, anger, or (as of late) truancy. Moving in with Pierre and his new girlfriend Sofia (Amaka Okafor) seems like the solution – but what was the problem to begin with? As Nicolas’ thoughts begin to unravel, so does his family’s belief in the son they thought they knew.

The Son is an ordinary play in so many ways, and yet it is simultaneously extraordinary. This is apparent even before the play begins. The sight of Lizzie Clachan’s set – a chic suburban living room flooded with symbolic pieces of debris – is enough to indicate the carefully constructed tumult that is to follow.

It is only afterwards that these objects (children’s toys, a mounted deer head) really strike the observer as important. This is because, for all the busyness on stage, it is the actors that draw all the focus. Laurie Kynaston is utterly believable as Nicolas. He stays clear of melodramatic clichés and instead pools the depths of Zeller’s writing to draw out an emotionally authentic character. John Light is fascinating to watch as Pierre, a flawed yet deeply caring father whose frustration manifests itself in uncomfortable ways. Despite the unsavoury aspects of his character, Light humanises Pierre, making his position understandable if not agreeable. Amaka Okafor transforms Sofia into a complex character, a woman who is both loving and resentful of her volatile stepson. Okafor surprises in every scene, and is able to navigate the twists and turns of her character with flair. There is strong support from Amanda Abbington, who is sadly not present enough throughout the story. When she is present, however, she radiates love and warmth, an ideal balance to Light’s ferocity.

Whilst Zeller is evasive about the details of Nicolas’ illness, he pulls no punches with how it is presented. He wrings every last drop of emotion from the scenarios he presents, investing every one with a subtly disarming twist. Zeller’s approach – to turn his characters inside out and hold them up for all to see – makes The Son all the more difficult to watch. There is a universal sense of pain here: this family is not particularly special, not marked by excessive trauma, but in many ways just ordinary, in a way that makes its dissolution even crueller. It is clear that Nicolas is surrounded by love, just not the right kind. And we as an audience know that it will never be the right kind – but we still fall in love with those moments of laughter and lightness that suggest it might be so. The vague accumulation of dread sits uneasily within these moments of joy in what is a true emotional test for even most disconnected audience member.

Beautifully and assuredly executed, The Son may mark a completion of a trilogy, but is surely the sign of many more great works to come.

 

Reviewed by Harriet Corke

Photography by Marc Brenner

 

ATG Tickets

The Son

Duke of York’s Theatre until 2nd November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Rosmersholm | ★★★★ | May 2019

 

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