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The Theatreguide.London Review

Each His Own Wilderness
Orange Tree Theatre   Spring 2015

Novelist Doris Lessing's play captures England's middle class Old Left in 1958, something of a crisis moment for those who can no longer romanticise Soviet Communism and must deflect their political ardour toward either vague utopian socialism or ineffectual ban-the-bomb protests. 

All that frustrated commitment has to go somewhere, and although someone says 'These people talk about politics with all the passionate intensity other people reserve for sex', Lessing suggests rather that they are driven toward sex as a politics substitute. 

A middle-aged woman takes a lover her son's age while an older man yearns for her, and her former lover, for whom she still carries a torch, has a twentyish fiance. 

There's little surprise, then, when the woman's son and the toyboy's mother (her best friend and fellow activist) fall into bed, driven as much by the demands of symmetry as anything else. 

Much of the play is seen from the son's perspective, as he expresses his boredom with both the platitudinous political rhetoric and the bed-hopping he's lived with all his life. 

You might take him as speaking for the author were it not that he contributes considerable quantities of his own verbiage and misdirected sexuality to the mix. 

As sometimes happens when novelists turn playwright, this is a play in which everyone talks at, rather than with each other, and at great length, even when they don't have a great deal to say. 

Director Paul Miller is unable to conquer or disguise this dramatic failing in the script, and you may find yourself tuning out of the political chatter while waiting for it to go someplace. 

Clare Holman is a strong presence as the central figure, almost managing to sustain a coherent characterisation as the playwright makes her switch her attention from man to man to man repeatedly and never quite figure out how she feels about her son. 

Holman also looks and plays far too young for this fiftyish woman, especially alongside Susannah Harker's matronly friend. 

Although the younger man's sexuality is never questioned in the play, Joel MacCormack has been oddly misdirected to flounce around like John Inman waiting on a customer. 

All the other characters are so underwritten and underused that the actors have little opportunity to make an impression, and you have to remind yourself who they are whenever they come onstage.

It isn't until the very final moments of the play that Lessing seems to stumble on her real subject, as – spoiler alert – the younger characters announce that all this politics and musical beds is exhausting to watch, and that all they really want out of life is to be ordinary, bourgeois and boring. 

That's not a bad insight – that the complacency and materialism of the 1950s wasn't a loss of the political energy of the preceding decades, but an active rejection of it. It's a shame that we have to sit through two and a half hours of meandering speechifying and passionless coupling to get to it.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Each His Own Wilderness - Orange Tree Theatre 2015

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