The Grapes Of Wrath – August 2009

(unrated)

By John Steinbeck, adapted by Frank Galati

Directed by Jonathan Church

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 6th August 2009

I would like to be able to rate this performance, but thanks to an unusually nauseating set design (from the usually reliable Simon Higlett) I had to leave after half an hour. The stage floor sloped one way, the house/barn walls and advertising hoarding at the back sloped another, and my head was starting to spin within ten minutes. I just couldn’t adjust to being in a sloping theatre, especially as my body was sure I was sitting upright while my eyes told me I wasn’t. Very unpleasant, and from the reaction of the staff when I came out, not the first time they’ve had to help audience members with this problem. The staff were, as always, kindness itself, though it doesn’t make up for having to miss what may otherwise be a very good production.

Steve stayed for the rest of the show, and reported it as OK, but not that enjoyable. The first half, while they were on the road, was a bit slow and less interesting, but the second half was better, with about five mini-plays in different locations. The water at the edge of the stage was used as a river a couple of times, with one of the actors jumping right in, fully clothed, and splashing the front row! (From the post-show, they didn’t mind, as it was a pretty warm night.) Once the remaining characters got into the barn at the end, Steve half-remembered the story from seeing it last time (Steppenwolf, National), though a lot of the audience didn’t seem to get that the breastfeeding was the end.

He stayed for the post-show as well, and it wasn’t until someone raised the question of the sloping set – the actors said it wasn’t that bad – that Steve actually looked at it and found that he was getting a headache trying to make sense of the angles. No one commented on the choice of this play alongside Oklahoma, sadly, though both Steve and I spotted a visual connection at the start of this production. There were wheat sheaves all over the stage at the start, and a golden glow from the sun. The men and women all came on to stand on the stage, presumably looking at the sunset, then the women left and the men swung the sheaves up on their shoulders and took them off. It was as if the earlier musical had segued into this play, but we don’t know if it was intentional or simply a factor of the common territory being covered.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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