Intelligen, thoughtful theatre that provokes any questioning of the status quo is often belittled as unfashionable or subversive. There are those who would argue that this is, in fact, the very job of the playwright.
Artistic director Laurie Sansom has resurrected a play from 2000 by David Hare which accomplishes exactly that with a tough, clearly-defined analysis of the role of Alcoholics Anonymous. Benign force for good or sinister cult, Hare seems to be asking.
And yet the play, which presents multi-millionaire Victor Quinn in direct opposition to young AA apologist Paul Peplow, seems unequivocal in its answers: by the end, Quinn is dead and Peplow is back in the AA fold.
Itís even debatable whether the play is actually about alcohol at all. For my money, itís as much a metaphor for the destructive power of love Ė and the struggle with addiction to it Ė as anything else.
Under Sansomís direction, Quinnís world Ė like his younger wife Elsa Ė is starkly luxurious, seductively cold, and Jess Curtisís set design, ingeniously lit by Anna Watson, compounds the detachment with which we are invited to see Peplow and his view of the world.
As the tyrannical Quinn, Robert Gwilym errs occasionally toward the bombastic, but thereís no denying his presence and authority, whether heís actually on stage or not.
Leanne Best is slippery and sly as the manipulative Elsa, but itís the performance of Jamie Parker as the disintegrating Peplow that really carries the piece. Ranging confidently across the emotional spectrum, heís always entirely believable and extremely engaging as the young poet-turned-web-copywriter whose defeat of his internal demons is systematically undermined by both his boss Quinn and his illicit lover Elsa. His torment, his collapse of will and his self-awareness of his own fallibility are brilliantly evoked in a performance of boldness and maturity.
Itís not for the faint-hearted, but itís a production of raw power and deep, probing emotion.
- Michael Davies