A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

The first UK production in nearly 40 years

 

 

All Good Men

and
Thermidor

 

By Trevor Griffiths

 

Directed by Rania Jumailly

 

Finborough Theatre

 

Sundays and Mondays 6-14 May 2012

 

In a case of life mirroring art the current Griffiths’ double bill – Thermidor and All Good Men – at the Finborough is performed in rep on the set of His Greatness, designed by Jean Marc Puissant. When Griffiths accepted the TV Play for Today brief in 1974, he was given one multi-room set and six weeks to deliver. The result was All Good Men.

The TV influence is there – i.e. tight duologues, ‘talking heads’ shots. You can almost see the close ups. The piece juxtaposes a pragmatic and idealistic Labour stance, evinced through a father and son Edward and William Waite. The attempt at an objective truth is carried by documentary film-maker, and public school educated Richard Massingham, and Mary, who Waite asks to accompany him to Buckingham Palace to receive a peerage.  

Objective truth is foregrounded more obviously in Thermidor, the first part of the evening’s double-bill. Its setting is an interview room at the Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs headquarters, in the late 1930s. Anya, a loyal party intellectual and mother of three, is suspected of being a Trotsky sympathiser. She has met her interrogator before, and this recognition offers a moment of hope. ‘What have you become?’ says Anya. Yet the background, rousing, propagandist sounds contrast to the taut, confrontational positions of the two inside.   

Trevor Griffiths, born in Manchester in 1935, worked as a teacher and liberal studies lecturer. These are strands which find their way into the characters of All Good Men, particularly in the portrayal of siblings William and Mary Waite, and Anya in Thermidor.

In his comfortable Surrey home, Edward Waite, former miner and aging Labour grandee, prepares to be interviewed for a documentary, Living Histories, covering his time as miner, union leader and politician. Complex family dynamics surface which call into question Waite’s judgment and character, particularly around his voting against the miner’s strike in 1926.
While characters in Thermidor and All Good Men maybe ciphers for political positioning, objective or otherwise, it is left to Mary to show the true meaning of living by one’s ideals. In the end she decides not to accompany her father to Buckingham Palace.  

The performances are strong, complementing each other and the space perfectly. The sharp political edge is still there after nearly forty years. Yet this encounter is as much character driven as it is by ideals. This is important to grasp as the action, in the intimate, traverse setting, is close. David Weston, with his soulful eyes, does a fine job as the militant yet tired Waite, balanced with moments of real tenderness, such as when he describes picking at moss, evoking ‘all those landscapes.’

Sophie Steer as Mary, and Ben Whybrow as William really appear like siblings; both are able to dismantle Massingham’s calculating, suave exterior. They do an excellent job in the duologue Thermidor too, while Ben Deery’s portrayal of the Winchester-educated documentary maker, Richard Massingham, crackles with current political resonances, amidst accusations of posh boys and the price of milk. The direction is taut, with an intuitive understanding of theatrical polemics in both. Griffiths is a master of this, yet Rania Jumaily and the cast cease the opportunity, equally, with both hands…..

 

 

Sundays and Mondays 6, 7, 13, 14 May 2012
Tickets £14, £10 (con)
Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road
London
SW10 9ED
24 hour Box Office 0844 847 1652
http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/
 

 

 

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