By Tom Kempinski
Directed by Matthew Lloyd
Venue: Almeida Theatre
Date: Saturday 7th February 2009
What a start to our playgoing year! After a death in the family, several bouts of assorted illnesses, and retro winter weather that was a throwback to the 60s, I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever see the inside of a theatre again. So this was an extra special treat, giving me the confidence boost I needed, as well as a very enjoyable afternoon’s entertainment.
Both actors were on top form, getting every scrap of emotion and humour out of their parts. Juliet Stephenson covered a huge range in her performance, from overly bright and cheerful, through angry and depressed, via some truthful revelations to an eventual calm, but with some way yet to go. Henry Goodman had a lot less to do in the early stages, though he does get a good speech in the penultimate scene, but he conveyed the right amount of quirkiness and authority throughout to make both his patient’s outbursts and her occasional surrenders believable.
I don’t know if the text had been updated in any way, perhaps the reference to laptops was new(?), but the play didn’t seem dated at all. Sadly, in some ways – it would be nice if more progress had been made in treating MS. In any case, the story is about facing up to the challenges life throws at us, often unfairly, and this still comes across very strongly, especially with such powerful performances. There’s a great deal of humanity in this play, which is one of the things I like about it; it reaffirms life in the face of despair and suffering. It’s also very well crafted, as it’s not easy to keep an audience awake and in their seats with only two characters who hardly move, and who occasionally lapse into relatively long silences. Having a motorised wheelchair certainly helps, so at least one of the characters was more mobile than might have been expected, and the emotional outbursts from each of them certainly kept the energy levels up. But they would be nowhere without good writing, and this definitely qualifies. I will just mention though, that, in common with all other on stage psychiatrists, Doctor Feldmann short-changes his clients dreadfully. Three sessions in less than an hour and a quarter! Scandalous.
The set was a pleasant room, with windows to our left in a rectangular bay, the door next to these, and shelves filling the rest of the back wall. Unlike some other dramatic office/studies, these were mainly filled with records, CDs and presumably tapes, with books being squeezed into less than half the space. A chaise longue in front of the shelves had a richly woven carpet in front of it. The doctor’s desk was to the right, and there were two comfy armchairs on either side of the table in the window; at least they were once the doctor had moved one of them back – not needed for this client. The doctor was around for most of the short interludes between scenes, while Juliet Stephenson was changing her outfit, and there were also a number of musical extracts for our enjoyment – fortunately none of them set off my hearing aids, so we could relax and enjoy ourselves (and I did have a few sniffles as well).
© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me