Review: Eden (Hampstead Theatre, Downstairs)

Hannah Patterson’s play finds inspiration in what happened when the now President met with local resistance when he attempted to build a deluxe golf course

Michael Simkins (Chase) and Yolanda Kettle (Sophie) in Eden
Michael Simkins (Chase) and Yolanda Kettle (Sophie) in Eden
© Robert Day

Billed as a modern-day David and Goliath story, Eden is Inspired by the local resistance the current President of the United States met with when he first attempted to build a deluxe golf course and resort on some remote Aberdeenshire dunes. It's an interesting premise fleshed out with pleasingly sardonic humour and some nicely drawn characters.

It's a shame then that Hannah Patterson's enjoyable, somewhat frustrating play gets bogged down in ham-fisted plotting, didacticism and a second act lurch into sentimentality. Matthew Xia's slightly clumsy traverse staging doesn't help. Scenes bleed into each other in a cinematic manner that feels more perfunctory than inspired, and the blocking frequently seems artificial for what is essentially a naturalistic script.

Where Patterson really excels is in mimicking and distilling the hyperbolic speech patterns and rhythms of POTUS 45. This character's name is Chase but with his faux bonhomie, constant self-aggrandisement, ruthlessness and sudden shards of alarming anger, there's no doubt who he is based on. Michael Simkins is magnificent in the role, by turns satisfyingly absurd then downright chilling. He's an unctuous human steamroller.

As one of his local adversaries, a landowner determined not to relinquish his birthright at any cost, Sean Jackson is equally good. There is real power in a scene where the two men go head-to-head, and Jackson is such a fine actor that he even makes something touching and convincing out of his platitudinous final appearance where he preaches home truths at Sophie, the young woman who has been working for Chase.

Despite being saddled with an implausible basic premise (would she really get this close to betraying the people she had grown up with?) Yolanda Kettle is superb as the slightly unknowable Sophie. There is terrific, emotionally charged work from Mariah Gale as the best friend and erstwhile lover who stayed back in the hometown. The female characters share an authentically moving final scene that is a welcome antidote to some of the bombast that precedes it.

Overall, this still feels like a work-in-progress. It's certainly watchable and even absorbing, and some of the dialogue is spot on, but it's just not quite there yet.