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4000 Miles (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: 4000 Miles

Society: Chichester Festival Theatre (professional)

Venue: Minerva Theatre. Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, Hampshire PO19 6AP

Credits: By Amy Herzog

4000 Miles

5 stars

Sebastian Croft as Leo & Eileen Atkins as Vera in 4000 Miles at Chichester Festival Theatre Photo: Manuel Harlan

This refreshing play is not edgy. Neither does it pose big difficult questions, use abstruse theatrical devices or run for three increasingly puzzling hours. Instead it is a supremely beautiful, truthful, tender 90-minute look at the family dynamic between a New York grandmother and her hippy grandson. And it’s a delight.

Vera Joseph (Eileen Atkins), based pretty faithfully on the playwright’s still living grandmother, is ten years a widow. Then in the early hours of one morning her grandson Leo (Sebastian Croft) turns up with his bike, having cycled from Seattle. Gradually we learn that he’s estranged from his parents, has fallen out with his girlfriend (Nell Barlow) and that something awful has happened to his friend.

Atkins, as you’d expect is phenomenal. Her character is forthright, wise and more than a bit lonely. Atkins has an extraordinary gift for commicating with her eyes – quizzical, horrified, distressed and a lot more. In places this play is very funny and often the humour comes merely from her perfectly timing a look or a remark. When, for example, Leo finally tells Vera what happened to his friend it’s intense and poignant. When he stops talking there’s a pause before she says “I’m not wearing my hearing aids”. Yes, she and director Richard Eyre are both veterans. They know exactly how to get the most from every word and how to milk an anti-climax.

Also excellent is Sebastian Croft. Leo starts as an apparently brash quite “woke” young man but, irrespective of his bluster, Croft makes it subtly clear that Leo’s arrival at his grandmother’s apartment at 3 o’clock in the morning must be some sort of crie de coeur. And we see him all moods – trying to make out with a fluffy, frothy girl (Elizabeth Chu) he has picked up and brought back to the flat is very convincing but it’s pretty predictable that it will end in Vera’s stumbling into the sitting room in her nightie and discovering them. Croft captures every mood and shows us his character gradually maturing and deepening.

It’s all set in an attractively comfy, bookish sitting room (design by Peter McKintosh) which sits very well on the Minerva’s angled thrust. The doors off it – with the suggestion of two bedrooms, kitchen and the hallway outside the apartment – are neatly done too.

Atkins on stage is like watching a masterclass in acting and it must have been a fabulous and enviable experience for these three young actors to work with her and Richard Eyre. No wonder every move and every word in this production feels as natural as breathing – always the measure of a really fine production. In short: one of the best things I’ve seen this year.

First published by Sardines


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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