I’m not too proud to admit that, as I don’t know everything about everything in theatre, I had a quick squizz at Wikipedia before venturing out to see this play, to give me a sense of what to expect. On the one hand, I’m glad I did as it proved a useful insight. On the other, however, what I expected from my interpretation of the aforementioned squizz and what I then witnessed were starkly different. Not the story, but the telling of the story. Blimey!
The story (it says here…) is a semi-autobiographical one from playwright John Osborne, who was going through some pretty harrowing marital troubles at time of writing. The chief protagonist, Jimmy Porter, is a dissatisfied, disenfranchised, more than a little controlling, highly intelligent fellow of working-class origin and extremely verbose about… well… everything! He is also a largely unpleasant man who I initially thought to be somewhat bi-polar – the mood swings in his character are drastic and shocking. The bulk of the dialogue is between Jimmy, his wife Alison and housemate Cliff, with a high ratio of Jimmy’s ire being aimed solely at Alison. Further complications are bought into the story in the shape of Alison’s best pal, Helena – who is just as controlling, which, along with earlier goings-on, makes Alison the object of our attention and the centrepiece of the tale.
This is a play where the conveying of dialogue is all. It is vital that a director gets the most out of the actors’ ability to feel and to project that feeling upon the watching audience. Once again, Patricia Richardson has surrounded herself with the very best that the local area has to offer. As Jimmy, Nathan Linsdell has by far the most to say. He has to be both likeable and incredibly dislikeable, switching between the two in an instant. His general attitude, along with the dreadful treatment of his wife, needs to be convincingly awful in order for us to hate him. This actor gives us everything about Jimmy in an excellent portrayal. Years ago, when watching the film Rob Roy, the character of Archibald Cunningham was so well played by Tim Roth that I actually wanted to jump up and punch him square in his smug face. Nathan Linsdell evoked that feeling in me on more than one occasion.
As the downtrodden, horribly treated wife, Bethany Harris takes us through the full range of emotion, her face telling the story as much as her very believable vocal characterisation. I’ve seen Bethany in a variety of roles over recent years and she just gets better and better with each performance.
The housemate, Cliff, is a Welshman. That’s what it says in the play. Being Welsh for as long as Cliff needs to be requires an actor who is either already Welsh or who can give a convincing accent and act convincingly with it. Hayden Ashurst is not Welsh, but the fact that I had to ask the director after the show if he is or isn’t should tell you a lot. Suffice to say that this performance is exceptional, convincing and an absolute joy to watch. As is that of Alicia Shore, who gives us an excellent Helena, the manipulative friend. She gives the audience a lot to work with and to both like and dislike about the nature of this conniving but seductive character.
A nice cameo from Steve Cox O’Rourke as Alison’s father rounds of a sublime cast.
The sound and light are very effective and well delivered by Gary Hayton and Alastair Griffith respectively. The set is beautifully dressed with bric-a-brac and furnishings that are all true to the time and place setting of the piece. Once again, hats are taken off to Margaret Eaton for props and set dressing. She must have shipping containers full of stuff to grace stages of any era.
This production is dedicated to the memory of Stewart Barlow, one of the area’s most talented performers, who passed away, far too young, earlier this year. I think he would be immensely proud and moved not only by the programme tribute, but also by the expanding nature of quality theatre that this play represents.
Further performances: 1 and 2 November at Bournemouth Little Theatre, 3 November at the Hub in Verwood. All start at 7.45.