Peterson carried through by subtle acting

Peterson is the third play written by Matt Fuller. According to the directors, Ben Kirby and Fuller himself, it’s an improvement from his last outing, The Courting of Claire, moving towards character-driven rather than plot-says-so action. Certainly the snippet shown as a preview was high on character development, low on plot – possibly a little too low, though admittedly I saw neither the beginning nor the end of this ‘modern-day fairytale.’

What I did see might have been low on action, but Fuller has achieved one aim – the characters at the centre of this play are captivating enough to make a conversation about Sky News interesting to watch. The tale is that of Abel Peterson, a recluse, and the girl who befriends him. Caitlin McMillan’s portrayal of a teenager, Wendy Dessner, is spot on, even if the dialogue she’s given is sometimes a little clichéd. The contrast between her drawl and her mother’s clipped middle-class tones smacks of teenage rebellion, though occasionally Howard seems to be speaking to a toddler rather than a challenging teen. The small cast hang together well for the most part, with Fen Greatley’s violent delivery adding some punch to the proceedings.

However, the real star is Thomas Olver as Abel Peterson. The whole play could be a vehicle for his acting and I wouldn’t give a damn. His performance is beautifully understated, every aspect of his voice and physicality dedicated to portraying the old man who lives at the top of the hill, the centre of the tale. His face says it all, passing through each emotion with a subtlety and naturalism that beggars belief. When Olver and McMillan work together, they produce such touching scenes that I half want them to go on forever.

The story of Abel and Wendy is told from two perspectives – our own audience view of the friendship developing, and a series of monologues from the villagers that surround Peterson’s home. The transition between the two should hopefully be slicker in the BT, but the monologues have a touch of heavy-handedness in the odd line or two which are not as subtle, nor as genuine as I would like them to be in a play so much concerned with genuine characters.

-Frankie Goodway

PHOTO/Chris Choy


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