What makes us identify with some people more than others?

Case StudyThat’s the question posed by a friend as part of her psychology research at the University of East London. It’s an interesting topic as an abstract, but even more so with a short and easy to understand case study that only takes up five to ten minutes of your time. All you have to do is read a statement and then answer some questions. If you’d like to help, just click here and the internet will magically take you to the study. It’s anonymous, and you can also email the researcher if you have any questions.

Please help my friend with her research – you never know, we might all benefit from it one day!

Review – A Tale of Two Cities, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 10th March 2014

A Tale Of Two CitiesI have a confession to make, gentle reader. Despite the fact that I went to that Oxford place and got a degree in English, I have never read A Tale of Two Cities. I’ve never seen the film of A Tale of Two Cities. I didn’t even know the story of A Tale of Two Cities. I knew the first line, and the names of the two cities involved, but that’s about it. I know, I’m shocked too. It’s therefore difficult for me to assess how true Mike Poulton’s adaptation is to the original – Oliver Dimsdalea quick read of Wikipedia’s “Two Cities” page suggests that a few characters and storylines have been removed but I can see how they could have got in the way of recounting the main story and that the conciseness is probably a good thing. What I can tell you, from my position of ignorance, is that it is a thrilling story that moves at a fast pace and it’s a production that gives you an amazing sense of sweeping, grand theatre on such a relatively small stage.

Sydney CartonThe play follows the fortunes of two men. One: Charles Darnay, born French aristocrat but renouncing the title in principled protest against the injustice of the society of his birth; a kind of eighteenth century continental Tony Benn I suppose. Two: Sydney Carton, a wastrel of a solicitor, who saves Darnay from the gallows, falls in unrequited love with Darnay’s beloved Lucie Manette, and in a surgeJoshua Silver of extraordinary altruism plans to get Darnay smuggled out of prison in Paris and takes his place at the guillotine. There’s a lot in between of course, but it’s a rough framework. I was staggered by the ending – I expected Carton to make some heroic last minute escape. That’s what happens when you’re 155 years behind everyone else in the book club.

La tricoteuseMike Britton’s fantastically adaptable set of peeling walls and wooden battens suggests equally convincingly the courtrooms, dingy pubs, elegant drawing rooms, streets and prisons of London and Paris, as walls and partitions slide open and close, revealing and concealing hidden onstage depths. The costumes are a splendid mix of the plush and the threadbare, suggesting the gulf not only between the French aristocracy and peasantry, but also a distinctionAbigail McKern between the likes of the Manettes and Carton. Rachel Portman (I’ve seen her Oscar) has composed the stirring and moving original music for this production, including a delicate overture at the beginning of the play, gently sung by cast members rather mysteriously wending their various ways behind a gauze screen. And James Dacre’s lucid direction concentrates on Dickens’ enigmatic characters and riveting story so that the evening passes far too quickly. It’s extremely impressive how the mainChristopher Good professional cast and the Royal and Derngate Community Ensemble work side by side so that you can barely see the join. I loved the ribald London mockery of the ensemble during the early court scenes jeering at the protagonists from the balconies, a fine contrast with the grim-faced Parisian citizens who observe the Tribunal and take serious, considered notes with their quill pens (no doubt all their notes just read “guilty”). Using the ensemble gave the whole production an extra depth and a sense that a terrorising mob may never be more than a few feet away.

The TribunalAt the centre of the story is Sydney Carton, played with thoughtful gusto by Oliver Dimsdale. The play starts with Carton convincing the Old Bailey jury that Darnay is innocent, so he automatically becomes a “good man” as far as the audience is concerned. But he’s an incredibly complex character, not your usual Dickensian young hero, because of his drinking and challenging behaviour. Christopher HunterYet at the same time he is remarkably noble and almost Christ-like in the way he redeems himself by giving his own life so that the people he cares about can enjoy theirs. There’s only really one scene where Carton is depicted as a bad lot, and that’s when he takes Darnay to the pub and tries to goad him after downing too many glasses of fine Burgundy. I thought Mr Dimsdale gave a very good insight into a character that can never be at peace with himself, Ignatius Anthonybut at the same time I never really felt he was that much of a lowlife, and that he’d probably be quite a laugh down the pub. Maybe that says more about me than him. Certainly the final scene, when he does a far, far better thing than he has ever done, is totally superb, with the guillotine and the static mob slowly coming into focus as he approaches his doom with complete dignity and heroism.

Mairead McKinleyThe character of Darnay, however, is virtuous throughout, in his dignified appearances in court, in his honourable abandonment of his dreadful heritage, in his generous behaviour towards Carton, and in his devoted love for Lucie. Joshua Silver appears the very model of decency throughout and gives a strong convincing performance. I very much liked Christopher Good as Dr Manette, refined, sincere and wanting only the best Michael Mearsfor his daughter, struggling with the mental scars left by his eighteen years in prison, and visibly disgusted at how Defarge uses his old letter further to condemn Darnay. Yolanda Kettle is a very demure Lucie, yet strong in the face of adversity when Darnay returns to Paris and I reckon she could put up a tough fight when pushed.

Sean MurrayIgnatius Anthony has a great stage presence in all his roles and I particularly liked his defiant Defarge and his languorous Attorney General. Mairead McKinley is a suitably vicious tricoteuse Mme Defarge (knitting provided courtesy of Lady Duncansby’s lady’s maid, the Belle of Great Billing), and a rather charmingly comic myopic Mrs Keating. Abigail McKern is fantastic as the faithful and spirited Miss Pross, with her brolly a force definitely to be reckoned with, and also as court witness Jenny Herring, tart with a heart of granite. Sean Murray gives great support in all his roles including as a delightfully devious Barsad. But for me the two stand-out performances of the night are by Michael Mears, both as the authoritarianYolanda Kettle but human solicitor Mr Stryker, and the good-hearted, selfless, brave banker (not often you see that phrase these days) Mr Lorry; and by Christopher Hunter in all his roles but particularly as the vile Marquis St Evrémonde, arrogantly taunting his nephew and treating everyone like dirt, and as the aggressive, demanding President of the Tribunal who masks his own personal sadism with the glorification of the Republic.

An engrossing story, richly told, with some great performances and all presented within an exciting, stimulating production. Definitely recommended!

Review – The Body of an American, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 3rd March 2014

The Body of an AmericanOne of the first things, dear reader, that I did in those early days at that Oxford place what I went to study at, was to join the University Dramatic Society. In those days (not sure if this still applies) there wasn’t only the famous OUDS, but also a little fringey society alongside it called the ETC (Experimental Theatre Club). You could join either and both gave you access to the activities of both societies, but you kind of set your mark in the sand by whether you took the traditional or experimental approach. I found myself instantly attracted to the ETC, so I joined them. And that interest in the more experimental, daring, unorthodox side of what you can put on a stage has stayed with me all my life. I’d much sooner see a bold, experimental failure than a lazy easy success. So it was with great delight that I saw that the Royal and Derngate were to stage Dan O’Brien’s Body of an American, a two-hander drama-documentary multi-media production, in the largely neglected space that is the Underground in Northampton.

William GaminaraNot that this production is in any way a failure, quite the reverse. As an audience member, you face a number of small challenges when you go to see this play, all of them insignificant in themselves but en masse they mentally prepare you for something out of the norm. You approach the Underground space from a different door than usual. You have to take your coat off and hang it on the rail because you are told inside it is hot and there simply isn’t any room to put your coat under your seat. You walk in and are plunged into darkness. You enter the auditorium to see two long benches either side of the acting space, in traverse, and the floor covered in stage snow, which you will find sticks to your shoes and your trousers, subtly, subliminally, drawing you closer to the action ahead, making you part of the set. The seating is unreserved but it isn’t obvious where the best place to sit will be. There are video projections on the far end walls – both sides. You check left and then right to see if they are identical. It feels a bit claustrophobic. When everyone is seated, there isn’t a lot of space on which to perch your bottom. You get the sense of a forthcoming shared experience that is going to be much more than simply watching a play.

Damien MolonyIn a way, the whole performance starts when you enter the room. It’s exciting, but a little unsettling. The lady behind Mrs Chrisparkle apologised in advance for being a fidget and that she will probably knee her in the back on and off during the performance. The fact that she felt comfortable about telling her that, and Mrs C’s generous “oh that won’t matter” reaction back to her, again underlines the fact that somehow, we’re all in this together. How very different from the traditional atmosphere where you only interact with the proscenium stage in front of you. In traverse, you not only focus on the actors but also the audience on the other side. If you sit in the front row, as we did, other audience members are facing you probably less than six feet away. You notice what aspects of the play are particularly intriguing them; which audience members are focussing on one actor, who is darting their eyes and head all over the place, who concentrates by looking down and listening more than watching; who’s finding it funny; who’s leaning forward to get as close as possible; who’s tuning out because they’ve had a hard day at the office and it’s requiring more attention than they can give. It’s all a very shared experience. Added to which, it’s a very narrow acting strip – no hiding place there, as one member of the audience pointed out during the post-show discussion afterwards – and that also helps unify the audience and the cast – both the givers and the receivers of the play become one experiential entity. You can’t have one without the other, as this setup makes abundantly clear.

Paul Watson and Dan O'BrienThe play itself is based on the true story of Toronto Star War Reporter Paul Watson, who, when covering the Somalian war in 1993, took a seminal war photograph – indeed a Pulitzer Prize winner – of the dead body of American Staff Sergeant William David Cleveland being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by a baying mob. At the moment he took the photograph, he heard the voice of Cleveland saying to him in his head “if you do this I will own you forever” – one of those moments in one’s life where you know that if you go down a certain path, your life will never be the same. But it was a golden opportunity, professionally speaking, to show the world the horrors of war, and he had no choice. And for sure, that one – actually two – clicks of a lens did change everything for Watson, and he fell into a path of mental instability and substance abuse. Some years on, the writer Dan O’Brien, struggling to complete a play about ghosts, emailed Paul Watson after hearing him in a podcast because there was just something about him, his voice, his story, that fascinated him and he knew he just had to contact him to find out more about him. Again, it was one of those moments where he knew he had no choice. This developed into a wish to interview him and write a play about him. And through the course of this play, as the two men start to discover more about each other, they also learn about themselves and their own demons on a physical journey that takes them around the world but also an inward journey that examines their hearts and souls.

Damien Molony and William GaminaraIt’s an astonishing theatrical event. First, the play itself; intricate and exquisitely written, yet extraordinarily robust and powerful. As I was listening to the actors’ voices in the first few minutes I began to realise that this was poetry. Not the rhyming style, nor the plodding mid-20th century poetic drama of T S Eliot or Christopher Fry, but with that eloquence and dignity that you associate, even though it’s modern day language, with the Jacobean or Elizabethan age. And it’s true – at the post-show discussion Artistic Director James Dacre (what a great start for him at the R&D) pointed out that each line in the text has ten syllables. The two actors ostensibly play Dan and Paul but in fact there are about thirty roles in all. Nor do they just play their own role – both actors play Dan and both play Paul at different times or for different lines in the play, giving you a sense of the two characters merging. With many of the words being delivered at a fast and furious pace you don’t have time to assimilate absolutely everything that’s said, which very successfully helps convey the confusion, clamour and mayhem of a war environment. The inclusion of photographs actually taken by Paul Watson during the course of his career projected on the walls, together with the extraordinary sound and lighting plots which have to be enacted with laser surgery accuracy, make the whole event an extraordinary feast of visual and audio stimulation. So many images, both pictorial and verbal, assault your senses, that the production demands your full attention and alertness. All this with the aid of just two simple chairs, brilliantly working on our imaginations to suggest a full range of locations and props.

William Gaminara and Damien MolonyThis is also one of that small body of creative work where one of the main topics is about creating the work of art itself. Think of the film of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, where the Victorian story is interspersed with scenes of the modern day cast actually making the film of The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Think of Spandau Ballet’s True, a song about the complexities of writing a truthful song – “why do I find it hard to write the next line”. To this you can add Dan O’Brien writing about writing this play – discovering his subject matter and assessing his involvement with it. Not mere autobiography – something much more revealing.

W GaminaraThen you have the performances. I can’t imagine how two minds can come together to perform this play with such verbal precision and dexterity as carried out by William Gaminara and Damien Molony. The way they allow Dan O’Brien’s flow of words to absolutely convince you of the reality of the characters’ situation is awe-inspiring; and the trust between them must be immense. William Gaminara as Paul at first seems laid back, savvy and in control; until fear, uncertainty and anguish creep into his tone to suggest Paul at his lowest ebb, haunted by that photograph. Damien Molony’s Dan is often polite, with that self-consciousness you have when you know you’re taking a liberty, but also terse and a little irritated when things don’t go his way. But because the two actors almost perform as one, it’s very hard actually to differentiate between them. They both use their considerable vocal talents to give individual identities and characteristics to all the roles. There are also some stand-out scenes – I loved the meeting between Paul and his very unsettling shrink; and also the scene where Paul finally tracks down Cleveland’s brother, an essentially selfish act to rid his own mind of any vestiges of guilt whilst not giving two hoots about how it would affect Cleveland’s family.

Body of an AmericanA stunning production that we are very lucky to have in our town. A tight, exciting play performed with immense conviction and skill in an experimental setting that both challenges and excites. There seems to be a move towards using the Underground for more experimental theatre in the future to which I would certainly raise my glass. In the meantime, when you reflect back on the play in the days afterwards, you are struck by how you have come to understand something of the raw nerves and emotions behind the people that went into the creation of a one-off iconic war image. One snap changes everything.

Review – Translations, Brian Friel Season, Sheffield Crucible, 1st March 2014

Brian Friel SeasonMrs Chrisparkle and I had invited our friends Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters for a day’s immersion in the works of Brian Friel, courtesy of the Sheffield Theatres. We found ourselves licking our post Wonderful Tennessee wounds with a pre-theatre meal at Café Rouge. “This one should be much better” I ventured. “Translations is the play that really made his name”. They looked at me as if to say “we trusted you for the matinee. Why should we trust you for the evening?” But I was right. Translations is like the Eiffel Tower lit up on New Year’s Eve, in comparison to Wonderful Tennessee’s out-of-order Belisha Beacon. It was first produced by Friel’s own Field Day theatre company in 1980 with a cast including such worthies as Stephen Rea, Ray McAnally and Liam Neeson and is considered to be a modern classic.

TranslationsWe’re still in Friel’s fictional Ballybeg in County Donegal, and it’s 1833. We are introduced to a hedge-school where a cross-section of the locals come to improve their education; from the barely-able-to-speak Sarah to the Latin- and Greek-scholar Jimmy Jack, both young and old are welcome provided they pay their fees. Hugh, the teacher, is a pompous drunken Stentor who treats his lame son and assistant Manus like a skivvy; and Manus is in love with milkmaid Maire, although she is disappointed by his lack of ambition and assertiveness. Into this mix come representatives of the British Army in the form of Captain Lancey and Lieutenant Yolland who are to re-map the area and to anglicise the Gaelic place names at the same time – for consistency, you understand, of course. Yolland finds himself attracted to Maire, and from then on you sense it’s not going to end well.

The Hedge-SchoolBut the great trick in this play is in the language. Most of the Irish don’t speak English and none of the English speak Gaelic. The whole text of the play is in English though – apart from the Latin and Greek quotations – so you have the situation where, for example, Yolland is fumbling through his tentative words of love to Maire and she is saying similar things back to him but neither of them are understanding each other – because they’re speaking different languages – although we the audience understand them fully. It’s a superb comic device but also emphasises the various difficulties there are with communication in general.

Beth Cooke and John ConroyThe language also becomes symbolic of power in the struggle between Irish independence and the British presence. Friel makes it clear that anglicising the old names is a form of violation, even though, ironically, it’s being carried out by the mildest and most romantic innocent in the form of Yolland. He is being assisted by Manus’ brother Owen, six years in Dublin and now a man about town, who becomes a kind of quisling figure. As further evidence of miscommunication between the two camps, Yolland constantly thinks Owen is called Roland – a name similar in spelling to his own; maybe this is symbolic of the British moulding the Irish into a replica of themselves (or maybe I’m reading too much into it). And there’s also a chilling lesson in army tactics, shown by the very polite way in which the British first start their work but then, when they perceive threat, as in the fate (whatever it is) that befalls Yolland, they become clinically aggressive and ruthless.

Niall BuggyThis is a super, lucid, simple production that allows Friel’s words and characters to flourish. Lucy Osborne has designed a useful clear space to allow for the maximum interaction between the characters which is the best way to use the wonderful Crucible stage – when it’s littered with furniture and scenery something of the magic can be lost in that theatre. The back wall just provides a door to the barn and upstairs leads to the living quarters, but that’s all hidden; all we see are the steps that Manus has to slowly and delicately negotiate every time he is at his father’s beck and call.

James NorthcoteAt the heart of the production is the very tender and gentle burgeoning relationship between Yolland and Maire. James Northcote is fantastic as Yolland, a well brought-up starry eyed young romantic, not only about Maire but about Ireland itself. Caught up in his own dilemma of having to do what the army requires but thoroughly disapproving of it, he reminded me of a young Nigel Havers, all clean-cut and noblesse oblige. There’s a wonderful scene where he tries to join in with some Irish dancing, occasionally getting it right but largely as confused as any Englishman would be trying to follow those steps. Beth Cooke’s Maire is a strong character who knows her own mind and is very no-nonsense with the under-achieving Manus (a delicately drawn performance by Ciarán O’Brien) but who reverts back to simple girlishness when confronted with what she considers to be the magical sound of Yolland’s voice. The two actors work together really well to create this brief but emotional moment of romance.

Hannah James-Scott and Rory MurphyThere’s also a fantastically quirky but never over-the-top performance by stalwart Niall Buggy as Hugh, the bellowing Magister. Of course the role is beautifully written by Friel, but Mr Buggy absolutely convinces you he is the epitome of classical schoolmaster from top to toe. I wonder if he ever met my old Latin master Mr Edge? He absolutely encapsulated everything about Mr Edge that I can remember, even his dismissive “too slow” whenever you were struggling to work out the right answer. In many respects Hugh ought to be some kind of bullying monster but actually you really feel quite a lot of affection for him. We also really enjoyed John Conroy as Jimmy Jack, beavering away with his Virgil or Homer, living a life devoted to dead languages but whose stories are as real to him as life itself; acclaimed as the Infant Prodigy in his youth but with nowhere to take that learning other than to carry on being the Infant Prodigy throughout the rest of his life.

Cian Barry and Ciaran O'BrienPaul Cawley’s Captain Lancey is a figure of fun at first, with his faulting speech to the locals, talking to them as though they were idiot children, and then with his complex words translated by Owen in a very dismissive, abbreviated style. When he reappears at the end of the play he is on the warpath with his cold threats to obliterate the neighbourhood if the locals do not comply with his wishes. It’s a very chilling volte-face, and very effectively performed. Cian Barry is a smart and sophisticated Owen, enjoying his near-complicitous friendships with the English as evidence that he has “made it”. Hannah James-Scott and Rory Murphy give great support as the Friel equivalent of rude mechanicals Bridget and Doalty; and Roxanna Nic Liam is a touching, timid wallflower of a Sarah, who could have blossomed under Manus’ tuition but will doubtless revert to a life of silence.

A beautifully crafted play, given a top quality Sheffield treatment under James Grieve’s direction. It’s a moving look at a fascinating time in Ireland’s history, but what makes it special is that Friel has invested the story with some memorable characters and that it’s not just some dry and dusty old historical re-enactment. With its lightness of touch and its linguistic trickery, no wonder this play made his reputation. We were only grateful that we’d decided to see this in the evening and Wonderful Tennessee in the afternoon – the other way round would have been a serious downer.

Review – Wonderful Tennessee, Brian Friel Season, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 1st March 2014

Brian Friel SeasonHaving enjoyed the Royal and Derngate’s production of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa last year, I thought it would be a good opportunity to discover more of his writing by making a trip up to Sheffield for their Brian Friel Season. Mrs Chrisparkle and I made a weekend of it and invited our friends Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters.

Wonderful Tennessee is a play that almost defies description. It’s a play with music – but distinctly not a musical. Its setting in the beautiful Lyceum Theatre, which I associate with the panto and the big touring shows, is maybe a little misplaced. It’s a very introverted play and would probably have suited the intimate and slightly claustrophobic atmosphere of the Crucible Studio better. When you enter the auditorium you are greeted by the view of the quayside of Ballybeg (Friel’s fictional town where the majority of his plays are set), nicely jutting out into the auditorium at a quirky angle so that they have to sacrifice the front three rows of seats. Ballybeg pier is so identical visually to the pier in last summer’s Cripple of Inishmaan that I had to check whether it’s the same designer. It isn’t. We’re lulled into a false sense of security with the traditional relaxing seaside sounds of seabirds and waves, which mentally prepares you for some romantic Erin idyll; but that’s not what the play delivers.

Wonderful TennesseeIn a nutshell, three couples have come to Ballybeg armed with lavish picnic baskets and an accordion to celebrate the birthday of their apparently most successful member, turf accountant Terry; and it’s Terry’s wish that they all take a boat that will magically appear by virtue of Mr Carlin, local boatsman, to visit the mysterious island Draíochta for an overnight camp and then back to reality the next day. The next two hours are filled with the characters revealing that they are, on the whole, not as happy as they make out, as Friel gets them to tell stories, revive ancient rituals, and even re-enact some aspects of an unexplained murder that happened on the island in the past.

The whole production is littered with enough distancing effects to make Bertolt Brecht blush. Right at the very beginning of the play you hear the off-stage conversations of the arriving day-trippers as they make their way from their car, driven by Terry’s chauffeur Charlie, on to the quay. I wish I had timed how long it takes for members of the cast finally to appear on stage. That off-stage conversation went on and on and on. Not all the words were clearly audible, you could sometimes only get an impression of the kind of things they were saying. It was a remarkably effective distancing effect, so much so that when cast members did finally appear on stage I was already finding myself irked by the production.

Andrea Irvine, Melanie McHugh and Jean-Paul van CauwelaertThe interspersing of the action with songs on the accordion is straight out of Mother Courage; and the songs themselves seem anachronistic. They’re the kind of songs your grandparents, or even their parents, might have sung. We don’t actually know when Wonderful Tennessee is set – it was originally produced in 1993, but was it meant to be contemporary? The murder on the island that appears to have taken place due to some religious frenzy is said to be in the 1930s, so, one assumes, it’s somewhere between the 30s and the 90s. “I want to be happy” and “Happy Days are Here Again”, both sung early on by Angela, are from the 1920s. Terry has a 1920s bottle of whiskey, the implication of which is that it’s probably expensive and has been maturing nicely for some time. On the other hand, Frank only wears Hawaii shirts which might suggest the 60s or 70s onwards, and Angela’s outfit is fairly hippy. So even the dating of the play is not straightforward, and makes it feel somehow even more elusive.

There are also many allusions to other plays and writers. Friel is a true Chekhov man; not only are his plays likened to Chekhov but he is also a significant translator of his work. We all felt that the island was the equivalent of the Three Sisters’ Moscow – life would be hugely better if you could get there but it just ain’t ever gonna happen. The unexpected savagery of the attack on Terry by his friends when they want him to leave his shirt behind reminded me of Lord of the Flies. Carlin, the ever absent boatsman for whom they wait and wait is a Godot character, and the rather pointless timewasting of the six characters has a lot of the Vladimir and Estragon about them. Interestingly, the play follows the classical unities, in that it all takes place in one location, all within the same 24 hours, all dealing with one theme – and any interesting activity takes place off stage and gets reported.

Jean-Paul van CauwelaertIt’s a very static play – there is very little dramatic intensity on stage to nourish the audience. The characters occupy their own little bubbles and they slowly resituate themselves at the front or the back of the stage depending on whether or not they’ve got any lines to say. The only dramatic moments are the final few seconds of Act one and when everyone turns on Terry to rip his shirt off. And if you’re trying to identify exactly what aspect of the human condition Friel is trying to explain to us – well I’m not sure I can really help you. Our matinee audience was quite small and of our party only the Countess didn’t nod off. At one stage I noticed that the three people sitting separately in the row in front of us were all asleep. It’s that kind of play.

Dermot KerriganThere are some very good performances – right from the start, I really enjoyed Cathy Belton as Berna, Terry’s mentally unstable and long suffering wife, quietly begging him to be released from the weekend of “fun”, and finding all the relentless attention of their friends and family excruciatingly painful. After she’s made her very dramatic point at the end of Act One, it’s as though she has finally committed an assertive act and she starts to blend in with everyone else. As she blends in, her husband Terry (Dermot Kerrigan) begins to become alienated, with his confession that he too is as much of a failure as the rest of them, and I enjoyed Mr Kerrigan’s portrayal of a character both bumptiously confident and privately vulnerable. Trish – Terry’s sister (I think – there’s something about the relationships within this play that doesn’t stick in your head) – is played disarmingly innocently by Melanie McHugh; part airhead, part savante; she can’t remember which county she’s in but she knows how many beans make five. Andrea Irvine makes an imposing Angela, loved by both her husband and Terry, all sweetness and light when it suits her and then laying down the law like the bossy teacher she probably is in the classroom. Jean-Paul van Cauwelaert (a veritable European Community of a name) nicely captures Frank’s well-meaning ineffectuality and Luke Carver Goss is a quietly dignified George, always ready to accompany the others on the accordion; vocally challenged through some unnamed medical condition that doesn’t look like it’s going to end well. When he wants to explode emotionally (like everyone else does eventually) he does it through the power of his instrument.

Cathy BeltonThis really is a most strange play. Not without merits, and in many ways captivatingly fascinating, but it also deeply irritated me. The Brechtian devices work so well that it’s impossible to identify with the characters and therefore doesn’t satisfy at all on the emotional level. There are some puzzles there in the story that might stimulate you cerebrally but I came away from the play slightly resentful of it and distinctly exhausted by it.

PS At least Milord Liverpool was extremely pleased to bump into Miss McHugh later in the evening in the rather crowded Crucible Corner bar so he could tell her he really enjoyed her performance. Her look of total delight suggested that not many people might have said that yet.