A series of small vignettes of American social life and relationships, Carver sees the short stories of the late Raymond Carver expertly brought to the stage, all using words that the writer himself wrote - even though none of them were originally written for the theatre.
In the hands of veteran director William Gaskill – a founding director of the National Theatre and a former artistic director of the Royal Court in the mid-60s – each has been precisely articulated to find the essence of the drama at their core; but some of the tension is dissipated by the audience being arranged on three sides of a triangular stage cut into the middle of them.
In this virtual theatre-in-the-round, there are inevitably moments when you will lose key reactions; I noticed, for instance, that at one point only one side of the audience were actually laughing. The rest of us were, literally, not in on the joke.
It’s a pity, as each of these scenes and the beautifully nuanced and detailed performances within them deserve to be savoured by everyone. Gaskill has illuminated them with the kind of minute detail and atmosphere that makes us feel like we’re eavesdropping on scenes of real life.
The comedy of social unease as one couple visit the home of another whose house they once rented could be a play by Edward Albee; the scene of a man (Jack Klaff) visiting a former partner (Kathryn Pogson) that he abandoned could be out of Neil LaBute. Gaskill has spoken of the Chekhovian resonances, too, of these stories – how, beneath the surface of Carver’s portraits of ordinary lives, there’s far more going on. So it proves in an amazing scene called ‘Cathedral’, where Klaff – superb as a blind man – finds himself being helped to draw a cathedral by his host. Another scene has a waitress recounting how she served a very fat man a very large meal, as we watch a giant actor miming it.
But the evening doesn’t entirely coalesce into a satisfying theatrical meal of its own; it’s like a good series of appetisers in which the main course never finally arrives.
- Mark Shenton