Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Little’

This is the third Peter Nichols revival I’ve seen in the last five months and three things strike me most – how different every play is to the last (and these three were only 14 years apart), how much better they are than the plays of his contemporary Harold Pinter in the same period and how way ahead of his time he was. This black comedy about bringing up a disabled child is radical in 2013; I can’t begin to imagine what an audience made of it in 1967.

We start with teacher Brian talking directly to us as his pupils, clearly partly improvised with ‘audience participation’. He soon steps into Simon Higglett’s superb, somewhat surreal living room set, is joined by wife Sheila and they begin their story about bringing up their 10-year-old wheelchair-bound daughter Joe. She appears and we realise just how severe her disability is; in addition to the lack of mobility, she can’t talk and can hardly see. For much of the first act, Bri & Sheila step out of he play to talk to us directly about her birth, diagnosis and early life.

In the second act, Sheila returns from Am Dram with colleague Freddie and his wife Pamela and we glimpse the discomfort and clumsiness others demonstrate around Joe; though this is played in an exaggerated comic way, it is no less uncomfortable for the audience. Freddie is well-meaning if somewhat patronising but Pam fails to hide her repulsion. Brian’s mum Grace pops in and behaves as if everything is normal, which is just as uncomfortable as patronising and repulsion. Things return to Bri & Sheila’s version of normal when the others leave, but in between we begin to understand the parental traumas, tough choices and agonising decisions and how all-consuming it is to bring up a chid like Joe. By now this must be sounding like a tragedy, but it’s liberally peppered with Nichols’ dark humour so as he makes you think, he makes you laugh too.

I thought Ralph Little was a revelation as Brian, revealing the agony of the man beneath the jokes. Rebecca Johnson brings real warmth to Sheila, and the chemistry between them is palpable. Owen Oakenshaft and Sally Tatum play Freddie & Pam brilliantly, as grotesques that have come straight from Abigail’s party. It’s wonderful to see Marjorie Yates again after such a long time and her portrayal of Grace is masterly. Jessica Bastick-Vines has the difficult task of playing Joe and does so beautifully. Stephen Unwin, who like Nichols has personal experience to call on, directs with great sensitivity, and by bringing the stage forward, compensates for some of the Rose Theatre’s distance, vastness and emptiness.

Long may the Nichols revival continue. I would now like to place my order for The National Health, followed by Poppy, followed by ………

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It doesn’t take much to fill the Bush Theatre – c.2500 in a month-long run like this; about as many as three nights in a West End playhouse, two at the Olivier or one at the Palladium. Add in a couple of people ‘off the telly’ and it’s tickets become hot indeed. If only the play were as hot. The Bush has an extraordinary track record in spotting good new plays, but it’s certainly failed here I’m afraid.

The Aliens by Annie Baker is an insubstantial and slight piece about a pair of losers who hang out in the back yard of a cafe and their relationship with each other and the teenage waiter who engages with them when he pops out to empty the rubbish. That’s about it really. It’s the opposite to Wednesday’s The Big Fellah – nothing really happens. Of course, some reviewers are talking ‘Chekovian’. Well I’m talking ‘bollocks’.

So much talent wasted – another great redesign of this tiny theatre, by Lucy Osborne; Peter Gill,the master of small-scale himself, directing; and fine acting from Mackenzie Crook and Ralf Little as the losers, though ironically it’s young Olly Alexander who takes the real acting honours.

A rare disappointment at the Bush.

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