Brighton Beach Memoirs
Paul Johnson | 02 May 2014 14:14pm
It comes as a surprise to learn that a company so adept and accomplished as Putney Theatre Company had yet to stage a play by Neil Simon before now!
Mr. Simon’s work is prolific and legendary in the canon of drama available for production; Putney Theatre Company group made up for lost time by giving full justice to this semi autobiographical work with a robust, coherent and charming interpretation.
The ambitious staging on two levels, mirroring the cross section of a house,lent depth, substance and reality to the piece. The effect of observing conversation in bedrooms between different members of family, and using the staircase to its full extent, gave the very real feeling of a normal everyday household. This lent quality to the production.
There were one or two occasions when volume employed by some of the cast on the upper level may have benefitted by being louder for the sake of the audience, and in the same vein there was some masking of cast members in early scenes and to some extent the dinner scene. I would mention that the latter scene, a classic ensemble piece, is one of the most enjoyable in the play.
These are minor quibbles in what was a strong and clear delivery and interpretation of the main messages of the play. The story and action is underpinned by the younger son of the family, Eugene, who acts as narrator. What a fine performance young Leo Blanning gave as Eugene;full of insouciance,yearning, and resigned acceptance of the lot of a sub teenage boy in a relatively large family. Leo’s accent was spot on too, somewhat Damon Runyanesque in style and projection.
His discussion with the elder brother Stanley, played by Stanley Miles’ in respect of sexual awakening, is absolutely delightful in its humour and truth. Indeed one of the strong points of the production is the many meaningful exchanges on a one to one basis by various members of the family; father and son, the two sisters, husband and wife, were all played with conviction and feeling.
The aforementioned Stanley Miles plays the elder son Stanley with a good and convincing mixture of vulnerability and swagger.
As the Jewish matriarch Kate, taking on the troubles and responsibilities of the extended family, Amanda Benzecry was a powerful presence. Her scene with sister Blanche in which she gives vent to years of pent up frustration in terms of her perceived martyrdom in times past, and extending to the present, is vey finely emotive. Neil Simon’s script provides plenty of classic Jewish asides within the smart, elegant and urban prose for Kate. Although she played the part very well, I feel more could have been made of the ‘Jewishness’ of the character without necessarily slipping into parody. I speak as one who grew up in Stamford Hill, North London, and had lots of first hand experience of Jewish speech patterns and mannerisms!
As the widowed sister Blanche, Emily Godowski was suitably bland and , I would contend, not a sympathetic character to warm to. If this was Emily’s intention I would say that she succeeded! A nicely understated performance although my comments on volume may have been relevant on the night I attended in the opening scenes relating to Emily’s projection; there were no problems later on.
Flossie Crossley as Laura gave us a subtle interpetaion of a slightly precious young girl who may just be making the most of a perceived sickly nature. As her elder sister Nora, Hana Butterfield makes a blazing entry with all guns firing, delivering the momentous news of a possible entry into the glamorous world of show business. The eventual deflation of her dreams and intrusion of harsh reality and disappointment is mirrored adroitly by Hana in a meaningful and animated performance.
The head of the family is Jack, a good man who works hard to care for his wife, sons and sister in law’s family. Dermot Boyle bestrides the stage with a measured authority and kindly but tough persona, investing the long vowels and caustic tones characteristic of a Jewish/East Coast mix which was very convincing. His fatherly discussion with Stanley is touching and beautifully played, and his observation of the family situation near the climax of the drama is forceful and passionate. Amongst an array of very good performances I have to say that for me ,Dermot Boyle and Leo Blanning were the stand out members of a very good cast.
The script gave plenty of opportunities for social and contemporary observations-the 1937 time setting allowed for comments on the possible advent of war-and it was a sweet irony that the family, immigrants themselves on the run from persecution in Europe, complain of other immigrants in the street being Russian!
The success of the production will owe a lot to the director Diana Denton-Baker, whilst costumes were chosen well and imaginatively by Marcia Kelson.
The aforementioned set design which adds so much to the production is by Andy Chamberlain, with excellent lighting design by Dan Ramsden. Congratulations to all involved and of course to all the unsung heroes backstage in production, painting, publicity etc, too numerous to mention!
- : admin
- : 30/04/2014