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Fiddy West Productions present

 

The Potting Shed

 

 

by Graham Greene

 

Directed by Svetlana Dimcovic

 

 

Finborough Theatre

 

12 – 27 September 2010

 

 

 

 


 

 

A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

When a programme heralds that a production of a show is ‘the first in London for forty years’, it might elicit the curious response–what’s wrong with it then? And indeed, these might have been the words on my mental lips if I hadn’t been assured by the artistic reputation of the Finborough and the literary legacy of Graham Greene. And, oh, how right I was to hold my tongue.

The Potting Shed is an idea-laden three-act arrangement which addresses the emotional familial vacuum that is born from a faith held too well. James Callifer is the prodigal son of a dying, eminent atheist whose wife, James’s mother, forbids the two men from a heartfelt goodbye. James’s anger at being forced to become the estranged relation leads to his psychological quest to unearth the terrible event that occurred thirty years previous at the eerie and oft-avoided potting shed. His only willing companion in this supernatural detective project is his teenage niece, Anne, who’s lucid and robust truth-seeking unlocks the older man’s paralysis and leads him to the people who can reveal the details of that life-changing day.

The script is riddled with meditated thought on the importance of doubt in human existence. It screams between the lines and titters within them, as we watch the fundamentalist characters crumble under the strain of their certainty. Greene portrays both the danger of an unquestioning belief in God and an unquestioning disbelief in him, both of which lead to an incurable hollowness. It is these diseases which the director, Svetlana Dimocovic, so skilfully carves into her characters. Eileen Battye’s unflinching Mrs Callifer is the mother whose protective instinct is only deep enough to support her husband, leaving her son adrift. Her gradual, poignant and uneasy extension into a softer creature who is reacquainted with her soul (a thing some characters admit they have no concept of) is expertly directed like a pained and obsessive soloist flitting through an orchestra of action. Moreover, James’s beautiful re-birth as a confident and balanced adult in the new found calm of his doubt is a process that must be watched to be understood.

All the acting deserves commendation, and those who stood out had to shine bright against a glittering and succulent array of talent. From the opening scene, Zoe Thorne’s almost alien precociousness as Anne sets the tone of a family whose aggressive rationalism borders on psychotic. With her hair pulled back, clear round face, and looming hypnotic eyes, she even unnervingly resembles a young Graham Greene. The supporting cast provides many of the finest performances in the piece, and such fortification in the outfit reveals the passion and effort of the director and her production team. Emma Beattie plays a tightly wound doll of emotions in the form of the ever-loving but cast-off wife Sara, Janet Hargreaves’s worried but determined Mrs Potter elucidates the intensity of the potting shed mystery, and Charlie Roe’s stalwart and loyal appearance as Dr Baston opens and closes the piece with humble austerity.

Tom Oldham’s set is a stylish, rich and cosy enclave that begins life as a drawing room but with a swift rearrangement of artwork and literature serves as a lifeless digs for James and a Godless presbytery for his uncle, William. The set also blooms with a rare delight – mystery. The edges of the velvet back-dropped set are frilled with bare brick work and this suggestion is an encroaching reminder of the ominous potting shed. More than once I thought the set would be stripped of its furnishings and the audience would be confronted with the scene of the crime itself. The unknowingness of the set reflects the confusion of the characters and cohesively resembles the peeking queries of less than concrete minds.

This play is made for those who like a solid subject matter coupled with lilting entertainment that is gracefully lifted from the script to stage. In the closing scene James’s crystal relief induces him to muse, ‘When you’re not sure, then you’re alive’. And although this is a delightful appraisal of humanity, when it comes to entertainment, being sure is a wonderful feeling. You may not leave with much faith in religion, but my God, you’ll have faith in theatre.

 

Box Office: www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk / 0844 847 1652

Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road
London
SW10 9ED

Sundays and Mondays, 12, 13, 19, 20, 26, 27 September 2010 at 7.30pm

Tickets: £13/£9 (conc.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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