A Walk in the Woods, Tricycle Theatre, London
Thursday 03 November 2011
There's a sense in which Lee Blessing's A Walk in the Woods is the ultimate park bench play – the customary two casual strangers replaced by a pair of nuclear arms negotiators (one from the US, the other from the Soviet Union) who meet for regular private conversations away from the official Geneva talks. The political climate has changed dramatically since the piece – inspired by an actual "walk in the woods" in the early 1980s when negotiators drafted their own breakthrough plan, soon to be rejected by both governments – was first seen in 1987. It's no longer a superpower stand-off that causes dread but our failure to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons in small unstable regimes and, potentially, sub-national groups. Does this mean that the play is now looking dated?
Watching Nicolas Kent's accomplished production, which has transferred to the Tricycle from Northern Stage in Vermont, A Walk in the Woods now seems to be as much an existential as political drama. The new-broom idealism of American negotiator Joan Honeyman (all frowning seriousness and rubbery-mouthed persistence in Myriam Cyr's vivid performance) is brought up against the disconcerting playfulness and charm of Andrey Botvinnik (excellent Steven Crossley), a cynical veteran of the bargaining table, who wants to personalise their discussions with friendship and frivolity.
Blessing is light on the specifics of the official talks and heavy-handed with the odd-couple format (Joan's talent for carefree trivia is on a par with Mrs Thatcher's). But Botvinnik, with his gradually revealed disillusionment, powerfully expresses the existential predicament of the nuclear arms negotiator – doomed to failure because governments would only ever get rid of weapons built as bargaining chips in the first place. "There is the quest for the appearance of the quest for peace," he tells Joan, adding that it is not exactly pleasant to discover that playing complex, futile games is all that you were meant for.
A Walk in the Woods has a somewhat prefabricated feel and more than its fair share of clunky moments. But it persuasively shows two people who would have a better chance of success working as friends behind the backs of their manipulative, face-saving governments than as a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on opposite sides of the table.
To 12 November (020 7328 1000)
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre