Coming Up For Air, Assembly@George Street, Edinburgh
Friday 15 August 2008
You can't avoid the heady whiff of nostalgia in Dominic Cavendish's sensitive adaptation of George Orwell's Coming up for Air. In the novel, Orwell not only predicted the start of the Second World War but also glimpsed the life and society that would follow.
The central figure George Bowling is not a particularly likeable chap, a flabby insurance salesman who would rather spend a small windfall on new false teeth than on his joyless wife Hilda. The comic actor Hal Cruttenden gives a rounded portrayal of Bowling's midlife crisis, which sends him off for a weekend down memory lane triggered by the biblical character of Og, king of Bashan. Cruttenden's Bowling is boyishly aquiver at the prospect of recapturing glory days in his childhood stamping ground of Lower Binfield, only to find utter disillusion.
Cavendish's elisions leave the story remarkably intact and his faithfulness to Orwell, and Cruttenden's perceptive characterisation, puts the novel in a fresh light. Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm may occupy the higher intellectual ground but, at least when portrayed so truthfully as in Gene David Kirk's unobtrusive production, Coming up for Air reveals an emotional heart. Here the past becomes a foreign land in which to travel hopefully is infinitely better than to arrive.
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