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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Small Change
Donmar Warehouse       Spring 2008

Peter Gill's 1976 play is about memory, about the attempt to find the truths about the past that will make sense of the present, and about the ultimate impossibility of that quest.

It is poetic - sometimes too self-consciously so - and evocative, though it ultimately takes a suicidal turn that almost destroys all its effectiveness.

The central characters are two boys who grew up as neighbours in a seaside village, and their respective mothers (The fathers, while not absent, are noticeably irrelevant).

One son in particular is haunted by the past, and the bulk of the play is made up of his out-of-sequence memories, in which we see the boys as children, teens and adults.

What we see is warm and realistic, with Gill particularly evoking the ways the bonds between mother and son work, sometimes manifesting themselves most clearly in the resistance of either party to their hold.

There turns out to be little more dramatic in the boys' lives than such minor rebellions as going swimming without telling Mum.

But, while the remembering son's mother carries on through a combination of doggedness and reduced expectations from life, the other mother falls victim to depression and (though she doesn't have the words for it) existential angst.

And then, about three-quarters of the way through, the play turns its back on everything it has shown and involved our emotions in up to then, and announces that the real McGuffin - the thing in the past that makes sense of the present - is something else entirely, something both banal in itself and of far less dramatic interest than what came before.

(Hint: the mothers were total red herrings, and the direction the boys' friendship took or didn't take is the key.)

To make matters worse, the playwright's style, which had always flirted dangerously with overwriting ('The train went through the countryside as if it would break the weather') now disappears almost completely up its own private imagery just at the point where we lose interest in trying to follow it, making the last section of the play not only disappointing emotionally but almost opaque.

Matt Ryan as the rememberer and Luke Evans as his somewhat less self-examining friend work hard to create characters who ultimately don't make much sense, while Sue Johnston and Lindsey Coulson do create and sustain a reality only to have the play discard them. Director Peter Gill does little to overcome the problems in playwright Peter Gill's text.

There is much to be drawn into and become emotionally connected to in the early scenes of this play, but just be prepared to have it all grabbed away from you and discarded as irrelevant.


Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Small Change - Donmar Warehouse Theatre 2008

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