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September 22, 2013 9:00 pm
This month alone has already seen significant London openings of plays written by actors Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag ), Louise Brealey (Pope Joan ) and Simon Callow (Inside Wagner’s Head , which admittedly is stretching “play” a bit). Now Rory Kinnear – the chief of staff in the James Bond movies to some, a thrilling Hamlet and Iago at the National Theatre to others – presents his first work as a playwright, and shows a keenness to get right down to the emotional nitty gritty and a thoughtfulness and sensitivity in dealing with it once he’s there.
We never see Andy arrive home for his 21st birthday party, and perhaps we never could on a stage: he is, we learn piecemeal, severely disabled, with a mental age of 10 months and was not expected to live past 19. What we see are just under two continuous hours of preparations for the event and the anticipation of the arrival by Andy’s mother, grandparents and sister and the latter’s boyfriend who is meeting the Wilkinson clan for the first time.
At first they seem a little like a family who are not really dysfunctional but certainly strong carriers of the annoying gene, but this is both clarified and exploded by the unexpected arrival of Andy’s father, long since divorced from his mother. What follows is a portrait of unstinting love and heroic dedication in one direction which sublimates into corrosive hatred, competitive martyrdom and inflexible unforgiveness in several others.
Howard Davies’ production is characteristically supple, and there is no weak performance among the high-calibre cast of six: Amanda Root as mother Carol, Anna Calder-Marshall and Kenneth Cranham as grandparents Patricia and Brian, the aforementioned Louise Brealey as sister Claire, Adrian Bower as her squeeze Mark and Adrian Rawlins as father Ian.
Kinnear’s dramatic structure clunks occasionally, with conspicuously convenient entrances and exits and a predictable bait-and-switch ending. It’s also too lackadaisical in its middle-class location: no one has or ever had an identifiable job as such, so how do they meet the costs of Andy’s care and still live so comfortably? (I would love to see exactly the same text performed in a council-house setting: some elements would resonate far differently, though the meat of the interaction would I think be entirely unchanged.) But this first play shows rigour in investigating an extreme instance of the cost of love, and Kinnear has added a tensile second string to his bow.
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