Betrayal, York Theatre Royal, by Nick Ahad ****
This is such a perfect example of form and content you feel like you’re not so much watching a play as a masterclass. Add to that the sense of human relationships being examined in absolutely forensic detail – there might be surgeon’s knives less sharp than Pinter’s script – and you have a combination that makes for an absolutely compelling piece of theatre.
Based on his own infidelity, Pinter’s story of an affair played out backwards is an extraordinary piece of work. We start at the end of the affair and work our way towards the moment that the affair begins. Knowing the path Jerry and Emma set out on at the end of the play makes the whole thing compelling to watch. It’s like a car crash happening in reverse and you know each decision made leads to the inevitable.
In Juliet Forster’s compelling production, there is fancy stagecraft on display, but for the most part, she strips away any fuss to leave little but the script, allowing the audience to fill in the gaps – or more accurately fill in Pinter’s famous pauses. It makes reviewing the production tricky – if there were 300 people in the theatre on the night I saw it, 300 people went home with a different version in their heads. That Forster decides to not exploit any omnipotence as director means Pinter’s words arrive unencumbered.
It is the correct move. Because there are so many different versions in the heads of the audience, many will disagree, but it’s difficult not to find sympathy with each of the characters, not least thanks to Mark Hesketh as Jerry, Amanda Ryan as Emma and Mason Phillips as Robert.
This is a fine production of a staggeringly good play.
• To October 18.
This is My Family, Lyceum Sheffield, by Phil Penfold ****
To re-open the newly refurbished Lyceum comes a new musical.
Well, not quite all that new perhaps, because Tim Firth’s joyous hymn to the pitfalls and pleasures of family life was first seen last year at the adjacent Studio venue. Director Daniel Evans and his team cannily clocked the potential for the show, have broadened it out, given it space and room to breathe, and now place it confidently on a different stage and in a completely different environment.
This Is My Family is unlike any other musical you may have encountered. The show becomes a story with music, rather than a musical as such. In fact, Firth may well have invented something quite new, a sort of oratorio and operetta hybrid with social commentary thrown in.
Each performer delivers as beautifully tuned and as precisely observed performance as the next. There are laughs in abundance leavened with quiet poignancy, and a wry look at the contemporary social condition. It is feel-good, and fun, but it also engages the grey cells. And it won’t be long (I predict) before it will be given space in the West End.
• To October 18.