Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tusk Tusk by Polly Stenham, Royal Court Upstairs, 30-Apr-2009 – Directed by Jeremy Herrin

I have to admit that Polly Stenham's previous play, That Face, sort of passed me by. I remembered it as well put together and enjoyable (if enjoyable is quite the right word given the subject matter). However the scenes that lived most in my memory weren't the intense Oedipal ones between Matt Smith and Lindsay Duncan but the bullying committed by schoolgirls in bunny slippers. Maybe I need to pay more attention.
This play with its offstage and possibly mentally-ill mother, together with a son who was just a little too close to her, seemed to be going over similar territory. The son in this case is younger and there is little suggestion of anything other than the mother being badly messed up and damaged. I'm not sure that we were ever given a reason for the mother's problems but as the play is played through the eyes of her children, they, as children apparently do, seem to accept the situation rather than try to analyse it. That said I'm not sure that I got a detailed picture of this mother who abandons her three children the day after they move from the country into a new flat in London. And, I felt, her motivation for the move and subsequent flight was merely explained rather than fully justified.
It is probably unfair to go on about a character that wasn't actually there especially when the three children (Eliot, 15, Maggie, 14 and Finn 7) felt real and grounded. Their dialogue felt a little sophisticated compared to the monosyllabic grunts that are normally used to depict teenagers – the phrase “precocious erudition” popped into my head and wouldn't go away.
In general I thought the acting of the three principals was strong and I believed in their predicament. What I didn't do, was care about them. I had more sympathy with their unseen angry upstairs neighbour than I did with this gaggle of troubled children trying to stick together. Perhaps it is the onset of fogyism on my part.
As I left the theatre I thought I'd seen a good play – writing good, acting excellent, sympathy nil was my summary – but as I sit here writing and analysing it is beginning to crumble and I'm seeing more and more flaws. Perhaps this is a good place to stop.

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