Over Gardens Out, Riverside Studios, London
Monday 25 October 2010
Peter Gill was the founding director of the Riverside Studios, so it's fitting that the venue now hosts Good Night Out's enterprising mini-season of his first two plays.
Another of his feats was to champion D H Lawrence as a major dramatist of working-class life in a groundbreaking season at the Royal Court in 1968. You can see how that author's influence operated on Gill's own writing in Over Gardens Out, a play premiered in the same year. It receives here a rare, beautifully acted and conceived revival directed by Sam Brown.
Set in Sixties Cardiff, the piece brings the Lawrentian mummy's boy up to date by steering him into an edgily homoerotic friendship with a tough ex-borstal boy. The streaky-thin Meilir Rhys Williams superbly captures the resentful adolescent prissiness and flouncing turmoil of Dennis, who has to struggle with his sexuality in a profoundly stultifying environment. The excellent Calum Callaghan sends out unnervingly contradictory signals as the aggressive Jeffry, suggesting a hunger for intimacy while also leaving it unclear whether the homoerotic horseplay is a jeering joke or the genuine article.
The set spreads out Sixties bric-à-brac on shelves like archaeological finds, and Brown's production revels in the sprung rhythms of Gill's dialogue (which raises the nagging, circular banalities of demotic speech to the pitch of poetry) and in the boldness of a dramaturgy that works in flashes and glimpses rather than through plodding explicitness. Both the play and the production spring delightful surprises. When Dennis makes to kill a bluebottle, the insect's noise turns out to be provided by his father babbling the rosary behind the shelves. And there's a wonderful sequence where Dennis and his harassed mother (Kirsten Clark) take a sudden break from bickering discontent in a camp synchronised dance routine to a pop song on the radio. Warmly recommended.
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