One thing is clear from this revival of Nick Ward’s 1987 play: the Finborough certainly has impeccable timing. As the current recession gathers steam, this tragedy centred around one man’s redundancy provides a strong and very deliberate contemporary impact.
On the soggy marshes of the Fenlands, George Sutton is duly dismissed from his work tending a landowner’s grounds. As he slips into depression, his wife Pam must find a way to handle the dismal and often violent home atmosphere. His daughter Linda, meanwhile, just dreams of escaping the Fenlands and her sexually abusive father.
Ben Kidd, who recently graduated from assistant directorship of strong Finborough productions Cradle Me and Captain Oates’ Left Sock, does an excellent job with what is ultimately pretty ropey material. Despite covering little more than 90 minutes, Ward’s script is slow, dragging and filled with long silences that are more dull than profound. Some elements of the plot are unclear (why does the kindly landowner hire Pam as a cleaner when he lacks the funds to keep her husband employed?), while others are simply not pursued: the gritty, kitchen-sink threads of domestic violence and incest aren’t gone after with any great gusto, and therefore just seem like unnecessary afterthoughts on Ward’s part.
Despite working from shaky material, then, Apart from George nonetheless manages to convince as a solid, visually satisfying piece of theatre. This is largely down to some stunning central performances: Michael Brogan, in particular, is able to convey George’s sense of uselessness and melancholy even in total stillness. Indeed, it is in his quietest moments that George’s desperation is most persuasive, and most heartbreaking. As Linda, Amy Loughton’s surly West Country-accented teenager occasionally bears traces of Vicky Pollard, which proves only a mild distraction from her remarkably deft and sophisticated performance. Loughton impressively balances fiery, hormonal aggression with more complex tinges of vulnerability and longing.
There is no doubt that Kidd is a talented director, able to deliver sufficiently compelling flourishes to overcome key textual flaws. His portrayal of a family in an increasing state of disarray is undeniably potent and moving, but one can’t help feeling that there should be something more here. Sure, it’s a recession – but we don’t need a slowdown to match.