Posts Tagged ‘Amanda Abbington’

French Playwright Florian Zeller’s work has become a staple of London’s theatre in the last five years. Six of his play’s have had productions here in that period, all translated by Christopher Hampton. This seventh is the third in his family trilogy, following The Mother & The Father which, both first seen in this theatre, we saw the other way round to the order in which they were written. Though I liked the other three, those two stood out for me, and this is a very welcome companion piece.

The son, Nicolas, a teenager, seems badly affected by his parents separation. His dad Pierre has a new wife and baby son and he asks to live with them after his mother Anne struggles to cope when she discovers he hasn’t been going to school. If anything, it’s even more of a challenge at his father’s and he spirals into depression and despair. What at first seems unhappiness at the split proves to be severe depression.

It’s hard to say more without spoiling it, but it is a harrowing journey that shows the damage that can be done at a vulnerable point in a young person’s life, and the agony of the parents who have to deal with it. It doesn’t take sides, and Zeller doesn’t mess with your head as much as he did in The Father, about dementia, and The Mother, who struggles with empty nesting, but he does have a trick or two up his sleeve.

Michael Longhurst’s sensitive production features a career defining performance by John Light, at first unsympathetic, but whose pain you come to feel intensely as he lets go, and a stunning performance that oozes authenticity by Laurie Kynaston as Nicolas. Though the male leads carry the emotional weight of the play, there are excellent contributions too from Amanda Abbington as Nicolas’ mum Anne, who struggles to cope with it all, and Amaka Okafor as Pierre’s new partner Sofia, torn between supporting her man in his support of his son and focusing on their new life and new child.

It’s not an easy watch, but it’s an insightful piece which rewards you with a sense of understanding and appreciation of mental health, as the other two plays had done, and the impact marital separation can have on children.

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This pulls most of its punches before it has even started. The real coup d’theatre happens as you enter through the kids cloakroom into an uber-realistic primary school classroom (designer Chloe Lamford) where the kids are playing. It takes your breath away. Sadly, it’s all downhill from there.

We’re at a school where Sali Rayner’s learning system is being piloted. She’s the writer of the Badger Do Best children’s books and she is seeking to exploit their potential in collusion with the authorities. If it succeeds the school gets a capital injection, so head teacher Ms Evitt colludes. Class 4N’s teacher Ms Newsome conforms until the kids rebel and she goes off with stress. Teaching assistant Mrs Bradley is clearly against and covertly supports the rebellion led by young Louis. In 35 short scenes (average length less than 3 mins) we get progressively bored without really getting anywhere. This play by Molly Davies really is dull. It takes 100 minutes of heavy-handedness to drive home its point – central control of education patronises our children and stifles their individuality. In doing so, it patronised me.

The seven child actors are great. The adult roles are all a bit stereotypical, so not even seeing Julie Hesmondhalgh (Corrie’s now deceased Hayley) and Amanda Abbington (Mrs Martin Freeman) off the telly can lift your spirits. Vicky Featherstone’s production needs a firework up its arse to give it anything like the energy you’d get in a classroom of eight-year-olds.

Another disappointment at the Royal Court, I’m afraid. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record…..

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