Venue: MINERVA THEATRE, Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester
Susan Elkin | 14 Oct 2021 23:25pm
Image: Daniel Cerqueira, Dona Croll, Hayley Carmichael, John Mackay in CFT’s HOME. Photo: Helen Maybanks
David Storey’s agonisingly poignant play, first seem at the Royal Court in 1970, is set in the garden of what used to be called a mental hospital – although it’s a while before we realise that. When I was growing up, there was such an institution in every area known by name and reputation to all locals. Today, of course, we look after (or not) such patients differently.
My first impression of Sophie Thomas’s set was that, filling the Minerva’s thrust it was pretty. In fact the faded ferns and big downy seed heads (like giant dandelion clocks) about to blow as the light fades at the end of the play is movingly symbolic. Each of the five characters, all of them patients, is faded and finished in some way.
John Mackay as Jack and Daniel Cerqueira as Harry are tidy in collars and ties pretending to be two successful businessmen but conversation goes round in vacuous circles of invention, “Oh yes …” says Harry about fifty times, ever troubled and often weeping. Mackay’s character constantly invents relatives who’ve experienced or achieved interesting things. No one knows the truth about anyone else.
Hayley Carmichael’s Kathleen is a forthright and cackling but pitiful suicide survivor who can’t walk properly because she’s not allowed lace up shoes or a belt. Marjorie (Dona Croll), often acidic, befriends her but has too many troubles of her own to be sympathetic to anyone else.
And poor lobotomised (yes, that was a standard medical procedure at the time) Alfred, played with gutsy sensitivity by Leon Annor is an ex-wrestler who keeps practising weight lifting with the garden furniture and trying to remove it. Even his costume is evocative. Alfred walks about in the garden in stockinged feet – worn out multicoloured socks through which some of his toes have pushed.
The impressive thing about all this is how the cast, intelligently directed by Josh Roche, bounce off and respond to each other. This must be a difficult script to manage because it’s so repetitive and deliberately banal on the surface over the surging sub texts – but this cast sustain the momentum pretty effectively.
Although some of the dialogue is funny because it’s so inconsequential – characters don’t listen to each other but of course the actors do – this is a deeply serious, uncomfortable play. I think you’d probably need to be in the mood for it. Don’t go if, for any reason, you are feeling unhappy.
First reviewed at Sardines https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/home-2/