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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Through The Leaves
Duchess Theatre, Spring 2003

Franz Xaver Kroetz's 1981 two-hander, as translated by Anthony Vivas, is a slow-moving, ponderous and unpleasant play without even the pleasures of attractive performances to distract you. It does, however, have something to say, and it is barely possible that you may find that message worth hearing.

Ann Mitchell plays a strong, independent woman, owner of a successful butcher shop. She is, however, of a certain age, which is the only possible explanation for her putting up with her gentleman caller, a loud-mouthed, vulgar, abusive, drunken clod played as broadly as is humanly possible by Simon Callow.

As he ignores her, puts her down, rejects any attempts at loving or even politeness, disappears for long stretches when he is not lying around drunkenly, and subjects her to abrupt and loveless sex, we get a portrait of a particular kind of female masochism and desperation, a portrait that is at best deeply unpleasant and at worst repetitive and excessive.

Let me be clear. I have no objection to plays that show us unpleasant things. The problem with Through The Leaves is that it does that so lifelessly and drearily that the theatrical experience, not just the philosophical one, is painful to sit through.

Ann Mitchell is barely able to make her character believable, and that only by a dogged consistency that forces us to accept the woman's behaviour even if we don't understand it. Simon Callow does his usual over-the-top acting in what amounts to a parody of the kind of East End gangster character who might wander into a Carry On film, though there is some minor amusement in seeing him essay such a macho role. Daniel Kramer directs at tortoise speed that makes this possibly the longest 80 minutes of your life.

That women (or, for that matter, men) can be so desperate for company that they will put up with what by any objective standard is unacceptable is an unpleasant truth, but one worth the dramatising. This play - or at least this production of this play - does that badly.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Through The Leaves - Duchess 2003