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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews



  Lindsay Duncan/PH: Tristram Kenton

Good theatre, like fine wine, doesn't always travel well and so it goes with Polly Stenham's Polly Stenham striking debut drama. When it arrived at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs last spring, it was an intimate and distressing drama that boxed you in as surely as the small dark venue itself. Now on a grander West End stage with a neo-classical set it lacks the feeling it once had that you'd opened the wrong door in a bad dream.

It's a story that offers little succor, being the tale of a shockingly manipulative, alcoholic mother who depends for day-to-day survival on her seventeen-year-old son. However, trouble comes her way when her twelve-year-old daughter is expelled from boarding school after drugging and beating a fellow pupil - prompting the estranged stockbroker father to head over from Hong Kong and sort out the mess.

Lindsay Duncan remains a first class harridan as the mother from hell who psychologically lacerates her two children. Living comfortably in London off money sent by her ex-husband, she drinks all day, eats cat food when hungry and chats dreamily with the speaking clock when lonely. But the play's ticking bomb is the seventeen-year-old son who she has allowed to flunk school so he can look after her and so they can spend all day in bed.

Whether they actually have sex is a moot point, but Duncan is a terrifyingly jealous mother whose revenge on the boy when she suspects him of sleeping with his sister's friend is one of the play's most disturbing moments. The young man is long overdue a break down and Matt Smith's impressive performance in the role charts the dark territory between youthful vitality and psychological vulnerability.

What mars the show is the rest of Jeremy Herrin's hurried production which loses focus in the satellite scenes. In particular the daughter( Hannah Murray) and her school friend simply caricature bolshy teenage monotones. Both need closer direction but instead are left disengaged from the action. Meanwhile Julian Wadham never loses his authority as the smug dad because Herrin's direction never grants him any.

The result is that Stenham's play which was and remains a very good one, appears to have been over-lauded. It's only to be hoped that the hype doesn't spoil the development of a very serious young talent.


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