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 The Theatreguide.London Review


On The Third Day
New Ambassadors Theatre Summer 2006

Some people are writers and some just aren't. You can encounter an unsuccessful work and still tell that its author has talent, and might get it right next time. That's the case here.

On The Third Day is not a good play. But Kate Betts is a real writer. She can create believable characters, write realistic dialogue and invent potentially evocative metaphors, and she has things to say.

She knows where she wants her play to go, but doesn't quite know how to get there, and the thing meanders and finally falls apart. But she'll master that in her next play, and you may very well want to see this one, to be in at the start.

You may know that this production is the result of a TV show. They'd had Pop Idol and football idol and dance idol and ice skating idol, and so somebody came up with the idea of playwright idol, with a West End run as the prize.

The Play's The Thing turned out not to be as much fun as its inventors had hoped, as you may have sensed if you watched it. Most of the submitted scripts were unsalvageably awful, and the finalists tended to resist their mentors' attempts to develop and workshop their drafts into shape. Before the opening of On The Third Day producer Sonia Friedman said openly that she would not have put this play on if it hadn't been promised.

And yet the winner is a real play, if a flawed one. At the centre of Betts' play is an emotionally damaged woman who meets a man who may or may not be Jesus. Whoever he is, he tries to help her, a process that involves her coming to grips with a lifetime of guilts and a complex and unhealthy relationship with her brother.

The play is full of loose ends, strained and ultimately unresolved Christ parallels, symbols and metaphors that don't quite go anywhere, and an ending that has a desperate we've-got-to-wrap-this-up-somehow air about it.

And yet we believe these characters and we care about them, and we respond emotionally to the symbols even if we're not sure why they're there  Betts is a writer. She just hasn't figured out how to make this play work.

You certainly can't fault the production. Maxine Peake as the woman, Paul Hilton as the man and Tom McKay as the brother all contribute significantly to our belief in and empathy with the characters, with director Robert Delamere guiding their warm performances and keeping things moving fluidly. Mark Thompson's sets, seen against projections by Jan Driscoll, are good in themselves and also testimony to the producers' full commitment to the play.

If you demand perfection, look elsewhere. But if you are prepared to greet a new talent even in ultimately unsuccessful form, you will find On The Third Day both interesting in itself and promising for the future.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - On the Third Day - Ambassadors 2006