Canadian playwright Michael Healey’s cerebral and extraordinarily true-to-life play Generous has returned to the Finborough Theatre following its debut stint at the same venue last summer.
The play draws parallels with recent Canadian political history, but the more prominent subject matter is the examination of an individual’s innate desire to help and where it stems from. “It’s better to offer floored help than to turn our backs,” is a Generous line that accurately sums up the morals within.
Act One is split into four interlinked stories set in 1991 as we are introduced to hot-headed, seriously stressed-out Prime Minister Marc Brancois (John Sheerman), whose Government is on the verge of collapse; belligerent and sarcastic oil-executive Julia (Jane Perry), who is confronted by an unusually sensitive journalist; and naïve “I love you guy” Alex Flemming (Richard Beanland), who it seems would excitedly walk over hot coals to secure the affections of his one night stand widower; and two men who aggressively wrestle over a bucket if KFC.
Each story unravels in the second act, as time fast-forwards to 2006. Motives for characters’ generosity become apparent as we witness one ex-government member’s (Corey Turner) battle with his conscience, cold business woman Julia seeks help in an old acquaintance, and the motive for the KFC brawl is revealed – the latter ingeniously illustrating the lengths a person will go to in order to protect a loved one.
There are numerous unexpected outcomes and great insights into each character as we discover the motivations for their acts generosity. But despite this there's the niggling feeling that too many chapters are left unturned and questions left unanswered by the end in Healey's otherwise engaging script.
The performances are outstanding, successfully drumming up sympathy for characters who initially seem ruthless, stern, downright selfish and “generally scared to invest in love”. Numerous scenes are intensely passionate - both with love and anger - especially in The Death of The Alberta Report when Julia and David Paul (Jane Perry and Scott Christie) quickly make the transition from frosty blunt conversation to raunchy heated moment. Karen Archer’s portrayal of regretful widower Maria in One-Party-Rule is also a joy to behold as her facial expression and body language do the talking during an awkward post-coital moment with young Alex.
The simple set, designed by Kim Alwyn and Aimee Sajjan-Servaes, consists of strategically laid out cream boxes and nothing more, working effectively with the perfect location to captivate the audience, draw focus to the actors and make them feel like they are a fly on the wall in each scene rather than a distant observer.
Adeptly directed by Eleanor Rhode, Generous is engaging and genuinely thought-provoking throughout. It's no surprise that this inspiring work from the under-exposed Healey has returned to the London stage.
- Kelly Ann Warden
NOTE: The following FOUR STAR review dates from August 2009, and this production's original run at the Finborough Theatre.
Michael Healey’s clever and witty play Generous provides a thought-provoking look at the moral complexities of trying to "do good". The Canadian playwright’s ambitious production, energetically staged at the Finborough Theatre, features a host of arresting characters caught between their consciences and self-interest.
They include a desperate Prime Minister (John Sheerman) whose government is falling apart, a ruthless and bluntly honest oil executive (Jane Perry) facing off against a hungry journalist (Scott Christie) and a married female judge (Karen Archer) having an affair with an excitable young clerk (Richard Beanland).
The action is staged in two parts, with four “first-acts” set in 1991, followed by four “second acts” in 2006, in which the repercussions are played out with some surprising character twists and insights.
The performances are excellent, with Perry a caustic delight, and Archer a formidable joy. Healey’s dialogue crackles with both humour and tension and Sophie Mosberger’s set design is subtly effective. This is the play's European premiere and it fits the venue’s intimate stage nicely, adding a certain intensity that makes for compelling drama - a welcome London debut for Healey.
- Elizabeth Fitzherbert