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 The Theatreguide.London Review


A Miracle
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs March 2009

The Royal Court's Young Writers Festival has found another beginning playwright of real promise in Molly Davies.

While A Miracle may occasionally be a bit wobbly in plot and dramaturgy, Davis creates real characters you can believe in and feel for, and that's more than many more experienced dramatists have mastered.

This is especially striking since Davies's story could, in less talented hands, have been nothing more than a weak TV soap episode. In rural Norfolk a young unwed mother has not been able to cope or bond with her baby, who is being cared for by her grandmother. A local boy on leave from the army in the Middle East offers romance and escape, but Prince Charming has demons of his own, not just battlefield traumas but unresolved conflicts with his father.

Will the young couple settle down, run away or split up, and will anything be resolved by whatever choices they make?

You can see how perilously close to cliché the material is. What saves it is that Davies, aided by director Lyndsey Turner and a sensitive cast, reminds us that all clichés arise out of real human experience.

Kate O'Flynn in particular makes us recognise a girl completely out of her depth (and reminds us that we probably see young women like her every day) whose only sin is not doing what she is simply incapable of doing, and yet who makes small steps toward growing up in the course of the play, without fully realising it herself.

Molly Davies conceives of the young man, and Russell Tovey plays him, as deeply flawed - flawed, not evil - who fails himself as much as those around him. And if the burden-bearing grandmother played by Sorcha Cusack and the gruff-because-he-has-his-own-pains father of the boy played by Gerard Horan sometimes feel more like plot devices than fully-realised characters, both author and performers go far to bring reality to their scenes.

And the play's flaws? Davies has trouble sustaining any scene longer than three or four minutes, forcing a structure of cinematic jump-cutting from one to another. The father is never really integrated into the play. The girl's growing-up comes a bit too late and too abruptly.

And, while designer Patrick Burnier has inventively shoehorned several settings into the studio space, director Lyndsey Turner hasn't fully mastered the difficulties of theatre-in-the-round - for example, during Kate O'Flynn's biggest scene near the end of the play, my view of her face was entirely blocked by Sorcha Cusack's back.

The whole point of the Young Writers programme is not to find perfectly-formed playwrights, but writers of real talent and potential at the start of their careers. There is every reason to believe that Molly Davies's next play will be better than A Miracle, and the next one even better. But here's a chance to be in at the beginning.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - A Miracle - Royal Court 2009