My colleague Glenn Meads reviewed Simon Stephens’ big, bold domestic family drama On the Shore of the Wide World (see below) when it premiered at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre in April. There, he found it both too long and too circuitous, but noted its ambition and good intentions. Something good has clearly happened in the transfer to the rather more intimate Cottesloe where – reconfigured to have the audience seated in the round as at Manchester – it now emerges as a beautiful, poignant slice of theatrical realism.
It’s true that the style is sometimes televisual in the fractured nature of the narrative’s telling and the fact that the action is telescoped into cross-cutting scenes from the lives of three generations of a Stockport family. But audiences – and writers like Stephens – have been trained by television to absorb information in a different way now, and are far quicker at picking up on the trail of reverberating emotions that this family subject each other to.
Here, instead of allowing the choices to be dictated to us by a camera lens, the story benefits from the close-up intensity of a theatrical stage where we piece it together ourselves. Just as a map of Stockport occupies the floor of the Cottesloe stage, this play maps the contours of a family’s relationships with each other with a delicate warmth and heartbreaking sense of human fallibility and ultimately, tragedy.
It’s a lovely play, lovingly performed and beautifully directed, aching with feeling, hurt and insight into the damage that people inflict on each other in the name of love.
- Mark Shenton
NOTE: The following review dates from April 2005 and this production's earlier run at the Royal Exchange in Manchester.
It is great to see a modern home-grown Manchester play at the Royal Exchange for a change, as so often their schedules are full of great adaptations of the classics.
Simon Stephens paints a vivid picture of family life in Stockport in 2004. Peter Holmes’ family is going through some serious changes. His sons are growing up fast, spending most of their time out of the house trying to escape from it all. Mum, Alice, looks tired and longs for something special to happen, whilst Peter’s father drinks himself into a stupor everyday.
Then something happens that changes the lives of each of these likeable characters leaving them all numb with pain. This is the play which Stephens has been trying to pluck up the courage to write for the last 10 years. It is epic in scope and delivers in terms of dialogue although many of the scenes are far too brief, therefore not as involving as you would like.
Nicholas Gleaves’ Peter is childlike and scared of making the same mistakes as his father Charlie, played by the equally good David Hargreaves. Thomas Morrison and Steven Webb play the next generation with real spirit and a sense of urgency. Morrison holds his own when given very demanding scenes where he has to stand up to his granddad. Carla Henry brings humour and heartache to the role of Sarah, Alex’s girlfriend whose arrival signals a big change for the family.
Lastly, both Eileen O'Brien and Siobhan Finneran provide feisty turns as women who have to contend with their husband’s closed emotions and at the same time remain loyal Gran and mum, respectively.
Liz Ascroft’s set, featuring a map of Manchester, acts as a metaphor as each character walks round the edge trying desperately to hang on to their sanity. Sarah Frankcom directs at a steady pace although the play is too long and in terms of narrative it comes full circle too often.
This is a well intentioned piece which has beautiful performances and some killer lines. It’s just a shame that as soon as you feel any sense of involvement, on comes the next scene like a short sharp shock; just like real life – I suppose. But with such vivid characters, Shore would be a much better play if you spent longer with each of them.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Royal Exchange, Manchester)