A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!



Constructive Interference Theatre Company present


The December Man




Written by Colleen Murphy



Directed by Lavina Hollands


Finborough Theatre


6 - 21 March 2011


Sometimes, when a play's plot is so tightly shackled to a momentary historical event it can be difficult to appreciate what the work means as a stand alone piece of art. Fortunately, Colleen Murphy's The December Man's clever diffusion of information means that the play works from both an insider's and an outsider's perspective, ensuring that knowledge of the Ecole Polytechnique Massacre of 1989 is no prerequisite, nor necessarily a benefit when approaching this claustrophobic, embittered family tragedy.

For those who don't know, the programme explains in detail the events of 6th December 1989, when a 24 yr-old gunman opened fire at the Montreal University killing 14 people, all of which were women. The killer stated that he chose to kill women because he was fighting feminism. The December Man is the story from the perpendicular angle of the boy who blames himself for not stopping the gunman. Jean is tormented by what he considers his cowardice, but what in fact turns out to be, as the play reveals, his lack of confidence due to an overbearing mother and an unimpassioned father. The backdrop of the massacre provides the tragic event that provides an excuse for Murphy to write an itchy, housebound drama that explores the frustration of being an only child with a mountain of pressure to 'better-yourself'.

The play works, in so much as it builds inverted drama by running backwards from the parents' joint suicide, through Jean's own self-hanging and back to the day he returned from witnessing the massacre. The difficulty with this technique is that it demands that the actors perform the climax scene first, a task which proves too much for Linda Broughton as the church-obsessed, neurotic Kate Fournier and Matthew Hendrickson as her blue-collar husband. This was unfortunate, as both the actors subsequence performances are powerful and studied, despite the niggle of Broughton's inconsistent Canadian accent. It is only in fact, when Michael Benz's Jean arrives in Scene Four that the other actors possess their characters. Benz's electricity is dazzling, with an accent as perfect as a native, even in French, and he brings the much needed tension, aggression and substance to a play in danger of melting like spring-time ice.

Technically, the production feels messy and indulgent. Clumsy scene changes involving the assistant stage manager and a tedious skyscraper model disturb the desired intensity of the retro-plot, and an expensive wooden porch-cum-bridge feels superfluous. However, all is explained when one reads that the production is merely hijacking the set from the Finborough's full-run show for two nights a week, and Lavina Holland can be excused for her sloppy direction of entrances and exits in this unforgiving potentially unwieldy black box. Nevertheless, all the above is in total opposition with Chris Withers' faultless light design. Also being pinned to equipment of another show, Withers masterfully floods the stage with warming home-light, and chooses a successful balance between blackout and fade.

In a play with many familial, psychological and violent questions, The December Man waits too long to sink its teeth in. The early scenes might work better if they were shorter, and more time was given to the production's most exciting, impassioned moments, namely, Jean and Benoit's carefully written heart-to-heart, and Kate's love-sourced. but vicious and oppressive attack on her son's destitution. It's an interesting piece with some gripping performance, but it falls in the middle ground between not giving enough (an extra closing scene perhaps?) and asking too much of an often distanced audience.





Box Office: www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk / 0844 847 1652
Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road
SW10 9ED
6th March – 21st @ 7.30pm, Sundays and Mondays only
Tickets: £13/9

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