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Godless in Greeneland

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As well as its main repertoire, as interesting as that of any fringe theatre in London, the Finborough in Earl's Court stages Sunday and Monday night performances of forgotten rarities. So, the current "main house" production of Walter Greenwood's Love on the Dole is complemented with a play you might sub-title God on the Rocks, as it features a whisky priest who's lost his faith.

The play is The Potting Shed by Graham Greene, first seen in London in 1958 starring John Gielgud and last seen in London in 1971 starring Cliff Richard. One imagines that Sir John and Saint Cliff had slightly different takes on James Cullifer, Greene's hero, who has been excluded from his own father's funeral on account of something nasty in the potting shed when he was young.

James tried to kill himself as a teenager but was saved by his clerical uncle who bartered his belief in the Almighty.
Silly as it sounds -- and once the butt of a brilliant, sarcastic review by Kenneth Tynan -- the play works like an intense psychological thriller, and the Finborough cast, led by a wound-up Paul Cawley following in famous footsteps and remarkable, 25 year-old Zoe Thorne as the thirteen year-old girl who unlocks the mystery, are terrific.

They have to be, acting on a sixpence with no scenerey except some dodgy green drapes covering the Love on the Dole brickwork, and three chairs. But director Svetlana Dimcovic has worked wonders of elucidation and creative blocking, and the play flies by, only losing the spine-chilling creepiness you might get in a larger arena, with more room to breathe.

Greene's prose is a joy to listen to. The event is like a glorified reading with knobs on.

The Royal Court used to do Productions Without Decor; Ken Campbell celebrated the English Stage Company's 50th anniversary with a couple of Decors Without Productions. The Finborough maintains a fine tradition. Maybe the Donmar Warehouse should consider a full-scale Graham Greene season; I'd certainly like to see The Living Room and The Complaisant Lover again.

The Finborough itself is a bit sad at the moment, as the pub has packed up, though artistic director Neil McPherson tells me that the new proprietors come with exciting plans and should be up and running in November.

And the new air-conditioning is just £1500 short of being installed. The bucket collection seemed to be going well at last night's performance, with friends of the cast mingling with Greene party fanatics and a strange tourist group of theatre nuts who were led by a huge man in summer shorts with a miner's lamp on his sun hat. We were all, in our own way, looking for God....


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