Classics are always difficult to stage: either you follow convention and risk being labelled boring, or you throw caution to the winds and add some wacky directorial spin for the audience to stomach as best they can. Rob Natzler, director of this four-player production, has gone for the former, and I am happy to announce that it was not boring. Put it the other way, it was downright engaging.
I’m going to get this out of the way. The technical team were having a ’mare. But actually, considering the fact that the lighting went haywire and a major set piece fell off the wall at the start of the second act, the production was bloody good. I can’t imagine how much improvisation must have gone in the moment when the light bulbs blew. But not for a second were the actors out of character.
This production is all about the acting. Andy Laithwaite’s frustrated and impatient Tom leads us through the narrative: his part is functional, although it’s a shame his narration doesn’t feel quite as confessional as it could. Amanda (Katie McGunagle) dominates the stage, a Southern belle abandoned by her husband and getting old in the slums of St. Louis with her low-achieving children – McGunagle mixes posturing and desperation with panache, although sometimes it seems a little over-acted. Her overbearing character contrasts very effectively with that of Laura (Claire Bowman), her gut-wrenchingly awkward daughter. Bowman is outstanding: her body language screams self-consciousness, and her dialogue with Jim (Miles Lawrence) is so captivating, her small flush of hope in him so haunting that her forlornness when he leaves is almost unbearable. Lawrence plays his part well: jovial and well-meaning, he sets up Laura perfectly for the inevitable disappointment he will give her.
There is nothing incredibly special about this production, but somehow it was not just ordinary. The tension between the actors is palpable, the directing does justice to the script; technical mishaps and questionable accents aside, this is a play well worth seeing.