The Nuffield Theatre launches its new autumn/winter season with the UK première of Woody Allen’s Writer's Block. First presented off-Broadway in 2003 and marking Allen’s own theatrical directing début, the work comprises two one-act plays – Riverside Drive and Old Saybrook. In true Allen fashion, both playlets are set in and around the author’s beloved New York City. They delve deeply into the psyche of the characters that populate his world.
Riverside Drive itself runs along the banks of the Hudson River, and is the setting for the first play. A dark and intense “chance” meeting between two supposed strangers – Jim, a successful author, pre-occupied and dissatisfied in his life (Mark Fleischmann) and Fred, one of Manhattan’s many dispossessed souls, roaming the city (a startling performance by Jamie Beamish).
Largely a two-hander, each of the pair spends much of the hour onstage alone, in an engrossing and sometimes shocking exposition with both delivering strong and believable characterisations. Wordy, and introspective, as you would expect from Allen] this black comedy works well on many levels but the climax ultimately fails to satisfy, being a little tootidy for my liking.
The second of the plays appears – at first glance at least –to be a much lighter affair, set in the waterfront home of a thirty-something couple (Mark Flesichmann and Federay Holmes) who are enjoying a pleasant evening with sister and brother-in-law (David Leonard and Niamh McCann). Then two strangers turn up at the front door (Ben Nathan and Trudi Jackson). Full of sharp wordplay and knowing commentary of the state of suburban marriage, the play develops into a witty and delightful farce.
However, the plot goes off on a surreal tangent which, for me at least, diminishes the piece, and again ends unsatisfyingly. Under the fine direction of Patrick Sandford, the performances are all perfectly drawn and there is much to enjoy. For those of you who are admirers of Allen’s narrative style, Writer's Block is a fine example of his work.