A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

The First London revival in over 30 years

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A double-bill of one-act plays by Thornton Wilder

 

The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden

and

The Long Christmas Dinner


 

Directed by Tim Sullivan

 

King’s Head Theatre

 

1 Dec 2012 – 5 Jan 2013


 

 

‘Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries’plays over the sound system. A man sweeps the stage. Upstage is littered with paint pots, a ladder, chairs and stools. It is a sparse affair. Pre Our Town, author Thornton Wilder wrote plays ‘free of scenery’ where ‘things went back and forth in time.’ A character listed as ‘stage manager’ in the make-shift-do of director Tim Sullivan’s production at the King’s Head sets the abstract style from the start. Wilder’s double-bill The Happy Journey from Trenton to Camden and The Long Christmas Dinner, ahead of their time in the 1930s, demands you listen carefully to the dialogue, as he layers ideas with characteristic poignancy and wit.

The Happy Journey from Trenton to Camden is predominately that, a journey. The family: parents, a son and a daughter visit the elder married daughter in New Jersey, who has lost a baby in childbirth. This is America in the depression-ridden ‘30’s with its attempts at selling the good life - a nation built on hot dogs and Levi Strauss, yet coping with Nature’s rough justice, with God’s favour.

There is very little movement: a stop at a gas station for water, respect for a passing funeral, ‘must be one of the Lodge brothers,’ and son Arthur’s blasphemous outburst, which threatens to send him home on the train. Yet the play is beguiling and charming. The main focus is the doughty ‘Ma Kirby’, a convincing Stephanie Beattie, maker of corn chicken, founded on true grit and healthy sentiment.  It is a gently meandering piece as the action moves from morning to sun-set. 

The Long Christmas Dinner is the more intriguing of the two plays, with its use of accelerated time, a feature used by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. The action takes place over nine decades as generations of the Bayard family celebrate Christmas, repeating ideas and sentiments of previous generations. ‘Every last twig is wrapped around with ice, you almost never see that,’ muses Genevieve, an observation made by her mother earlier, which in turn Genevieve’s daughter-in-law will echo one day in the future.

Family members are born, die or go away signalling the passage of time in a quaint, and sometimes, moving manner - the waltz as a risqué dance, or Samuel’s farewell as he heads off to war.  Yet beware the orange light, which signals doom and death to the characters in alarming fashion. The arrested movement - melt-down on Le Coq scale of tension, telegraphed this, big-time. Though, after a while, it lost pace and efficacy.Yet the acting is strong in both pieces, particularly that of Rosie Benjamin. And in their short thirty minute slots, these one-act plays bring a flavour of Wilder’s wry, yet tender take on life, and 1930s’ depressed America.

 

 

King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper Street, London N1 1QN
Tuesday – Saturday 7.15pm, Sunday 3.00pm
Box Office 0207 478 0160
Tickets £16, £25
http://kingsheadtheatre.org/
 
 

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