The Theatreguide.London Review
Hampstead Theatre January-March 2016
This 2007 drama by David Lindsay-Abaire has something big to say and something it wants us to feel powerfully, and it says what it wants to say and makes us feel what it wants us to feel.
You may sense a 'But. . .' coming, but let me wait a bit before getting to it.
Some months before the play's opening a four-year-old boy ran into the street and was killed in what everyone accepts was an unavoidable and villain-less accident.
And now his parents grieve, without even the small distraction that hating the driver might allow, and without being able to help each other through the ordeal.
One of Lindsay-Abaire's convincing insights is that grief is inescapably private, so that the couple, grieving in their separate ways and at their separate rhythms, can offer each other little comfort.
She tries to remove some of the constant reminders of the boy's absence from the home, while he holds them fast. She has little to do but sit in the house and stew, while he must go out among people and act normally.
Friends, family and even strangers who cannot possibly understand their pain are as offensive as those who smother them in sympathy.
It is terrible and it will almost certainly go on being terrible forever, and it is driving them apart when they most need each other. You will be moved and shaken and come away with a deeper understanding of a horror one can only hope you never feel in real life.
But the play says all that fully, and affects you fully, well within the first half hour, and then has nowhere to go but to say it again and nudge your emotions again. And again. And again.
Minor plot developments tell us we are moving forward in time, but neither the play nor the characters really develop beyond the first twenty minutes.
It feels crass even to write this, but you may find yourself thinking 'O K. We get the point. They're sad. Now tell us something else.'
This sense of the play making its point and then just repeating itself extends to Edward Hall's direction and the performances of an admirable cast.
Claire Skinner lets us see the wife tensely fighting an inner hysteria even in the relatively light-toned opening scene, while Tom Goodman-Hill's husband is more controlled around others, only to fall apart when alone.
And the two actors sustain those first impressions, with only tiny variations, through the play as the script gives them regular opportunities to remind us that they haven't changed.
Part of the playwright's point being that life does go on, some comic relief is ably provided by Georgina Rich as the wife's ditzy sister and Penny Downie as her overpowering mother – both characters too predictably turning out to be deeper and wiser than they first seemed (and yes, there is an irony there in letting the secondary characters grow and develop while the central couple remain static) – and by Sean Delaney as the teenage driver whose very ordinariness and likeability steals something from the mourners.
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