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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Carthage
Finborough Theatre  January-February 2014

Chris Thompson's first play offers sympathetic human faces and personalities for what might otherwise be empty sociological statistics. It raises some questions and settles a little too easily for non-answers but, thanks in large part to some strong performances under Robert Hastie's direction, it will hold you for its ninety minutes. 

A teenager in prison runs amok and dies while being restrained by guards. The guards did everything by the book and are cleared, but one remains haunted by the tragedy. Meanwhile the boy's mother, who has been in and out of prison and in and out of his life herself, and in fact gave birth to him while a teenager in the same jail, won't accept any responsibility for his life or death and hunts for somebody to blame. 

The play opens after the boy's death and then moves backward and forward in time from before his birth to a few years after the starting point. 

Playwright Thompson unquestionably exonerates the guard, but is not prepared to excuse the others or simply blame the system. The boy himself, the mother, even a kindly social worker who repeatedly reunites mother and son when leaving him in care could hardly have damaged him any worse all bear some responsibility, and we could wish that the author had taken a clearer stand somewhere. 

But if the play doesn't resolve or even fully address some of the questions it raises, it does make the key figures come alive, and provide opportunities for some impressive acting. At the centre of the play is Toby Wharton's guard, a nicely underplayed portrait of a decent man unable to walk away from a bad memory even as he accepts that it was not his fault. 

Claire-Louise Cordwell gets under the skin of a woman who has screwed up her entire life and has no self-preserving defence but to turn her anger outward and blame everyone else but herself, the actress skilfully managing to generate sympathy without excusing. Jack McMullen as the doomed lad and Lisa Palfrey as the social worker provide solid support.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review -  Carthage - Finborough Theatre 2014

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