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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Trumbo
Jermyn Street Theatre March 2009

Corin Redgrave stars in a salute to Dalton Trumbo and, while it is always a pleasure to watch Redgrave at work, the evening doesn't have a great deal more than that to offer.

Dalton Trumbo was one of the 'Hollywood Ten,' a group of scriptwriters who were briefly imprisoned in 1948 for refusing to co-operate with Congress's anti-Communist witch hunting and then (along with hundreds of others) blacklisted, unable to work - at least under their own names - for over a decade.

His son Christopher put together this programme in which a minimal narration by a second actor - here, Nick Waring - frames the reading of some of Dalton Trumbo's letters and speeches.

There are two inherent dangers to programmes like this, hagiography and dry history, and Christopher Trumbo doesn't entirely avoid the first. Though we are told that Dalton could occasionally be unpleasant, the only evidence we see is a gratuitously nasty letter to a political conservative who had tried to reach out in friendship.

The script does avoid becoming merely a history lesson by not attempting to tell the whole story, but rather to give the flavour of the man in his own words, and you do get a sense of a born writer who was always passionate, always eloquent and always long-winded.

It is no accident that only a half-dozen letters fit into the evening, since Trumbo evidently never used three simple words when twenty lovely ones would do, never said what he meant once, when he could repeat it ever more inventively several more times.

This was true whether he was encouraging blacklisted friends to remain steadfast, condemning a school principal for allowing his daughter to be bullied, offering condolence to the mother of a dead friend, or advising his college-age son on the virtues of masturbation.

Director John Dove's production is less than minimalist, more a rehearsed reading than a staging. Both actors read from scripts throughout and, although Nick Waring moves about a bit, Corin Redgrave generally remains anchored in a chair centre stage.

Redgrave reads with enthusiasm though not always with fluency, suggesting under-rehearsal. For a while I thought a pattern of stammering in the first half was part of a characterisation but, as it cleared up, I suspect the hesitancy was the actor's rather than the character's. (This was the night his niece Natasha Richardson lay dying, and Redgrave could have been excused for not going on at all.)

Most people have at least heard of Dalton Trumbo, and this show offers an opportunity to hear the man's voice, as filtered through a skilled and sensitive actor. Still, I suspect that you could get almost as much by reading the script or the Collected Letters on your own.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Trumbo - Jermyn Street 2009