In David Hare's best writing, he does present both sides of the argument
(In 'Racing Demon', for example). In 'Amy's View', he is dealing with his
own pet hobby horse - the theatre. He's made no secret of his dislike of
critics and this polarised view means that he makes only token efforts to
balance the argument.
Esme the traditionalist beats Dominic the philistine hands down. At the
end of the play, Hare may have earned nods of agreement from his audiences
(who, by their nature, are likely to be theatre-goers anyway) but I don't
think he says or does anything in the play that would win over those who
might hold opposing views.
Hare also has a tendency to use his characters as mouthpieces for debate;
he imposes ideas on them rather than allowing them to grow from the
character. At one point, Amy says something like: "I went with Dominic
because he was the future; I'm frightened of you because you're the past"
- that's not someone talking naturally about how they feel, it's the
playwright summing up the theme of his play. In this, he is a bit like
Shaw, who had a tendency to the same fault. It's not uncommon, in plays by
Hare and Shaw, to feel that you've sat through a sermon, or a political
speech, rather than a piece of theatre.
The stage looked good as we entered the theatre; the pin spots on the
paintings made a very effective impression and, along with the music, made
an interesting diversion during the set changes.
The play is all talk and no action. For much of the time, characters are
on stage with nothing to do, and this presents problems for the Director.
This is exacerbated by the setting, which provided very few alternatives
for them. The furniture was placed so that most of the movement took place
in quite a small area of the centre stage. This, together with the onstage
bike repair scene, gave an impression of a terraced house in Salford,
rather than a palatial Pangbourne home.
Occasionally, small details distracted from the action. As the whisky
started to get poured, I found myself wondering why someone wealthy enough
to be a Lloyd's name couldn't afford matching glasses. Three whiskies.
Three different glasses.
On the costume side, I did think Esme should have been give something a
little more dressy to open the local fete. Her desire to change out of it
was lessened because (a) it was no less comfortable-looking than the
outfit she changed _into_ and (b) it was not sufficiently 'tree-like' to
warrant the urge.
Judy Gray's experience, training and inbuilt skill were very clear in her
performance as Esme. Her assurance on stage, timing and easy use of props
put her head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. The play, and the
performances of those on stage, lifted noticeably when she first entered.
As Dominic, Philip Bower's body language struggled at times to convince us
that he had carved a successful career as a TV presenter and movie
director. Nevertheless, he played the dressing room scene well, when he
was allowed to show us Dominic's (well-hidden) good side, where he, too,
seemed more at ease.
Amy's part is a bit of a David Hare stereotype - the 'fragrant' female
with her faith in love, friendship and understanding. Imelda McGhee had
the right likeable quality for Amy. She seemed a bit unsure of herself in
the early scenes on the first night, but had warmed up to produce some
nice emotions in her final argument with her mother - the scene where she
wouldn't let her mother hug her was very effective.
Christopher Kendrick was an amiable Lloyd's adviser - at the end of the
first half one was left wondering "What is Frank for?" and it was good in
the second half to find out that he did have a use in the plot beyond
pouring whiskies. He put over the tired but devoted Frank in a very
Jill Calvert gave a sympathetic performance as the ailing Evelyn and the
'where's Bernard' scene with Esme worked very well. She is also to be
highly commended for not nodding off on stage when Mr Hare left her in a
comfy chair with her eyes shut for simply ages!
And finally a well done to Alex Codling. She was a lively and believable
Tabitha, delivering her lines with a reality and belief that brought to
life her all-too-brief cameo appearance.
Nicholas De Jongh said David Hare's seminal play Amy's View 'still captivates and concerns' and this is certainly true of ADC's latest production playing at The Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon. Act One opens in an upbeat light-hearted mood but it soon becomes apparent that not all is as it seems. A complicated web of human emotion and interaction is unravelled throughout the four acts of the play gradually transforming the central characters into complex studies of the human condition.
The play is well directed by John Hawkins and all of the actors give good performances. The character of Esme is the lynchpin around which all the action revolves and Judy Gray is extremely convincing in the role of the fading actress. Imelda McGhee and Philip Bower also give strong performances with admirable support from Christopher Kendrick, Alex Codling and Jill Calvert as the pathetic figure of Evelyn. The final scene between Esme and Dominic is especially touching although some of the subtext in this act is lost owing to the decision to turn the character of Toby into Tabetha.
Malcom Ross's set and Mike Ward's lighting design provide effective backdrops to support the strong performances and special mention must go to the inclusion of several pieces of interesting artwork by local artists.
Many thanks to John Hawkins, his cast and crew for a most enjoyable evening. Oh, and one last thing: Next time you're at the theatre please do remember to switch off your mobile phone!