Plenty, Crucible Studio, Sheffield
Tuesday 15 February 2011
Britain's post-war years have long been viewed as some kind of austere and pent-up wait for the liberation of the 1960s – all damp bedsits, powdered egg and Bovril. But despite the rationing and the lack of central heating it was surely an exciting time to be alive. As old-school diplomat Sir Leonard Darwin explains early on in Plenty – there are jobs to be done, roads to be built and land to be tilled. There was also Charlie Parker, some great-looking clothes and – assuming you were part of a "loose Pimlico set" – the prospect of bohemian sex, booze aplenty and even the occasional bong.
Of course, those were the lucky ones. The unlucky ones had perished naked on the floors of Buchenwald, a point made by the gun-toting, swivel-eyed heroine Susan Traherne, played brilliantly by Hattie Morahan.
A former courier in the special operations executive in occupied France, nothing in her later life ever quite lives up to the intensity of those experiences or – as we learn later – the scale of the expectation of happiness in the sunlit day of war's end. Certainly not working as a clerk in a boring shipping office, nor writing advertising copy for Macmillan's consumer society and definitely not as the unsuitable wife of slow-stream diplomat Raymond Brock.
What is so thoroughly enjoyable about director Thea Sharrock's revival of David Hare's 1978 play is not just the superbly evoked period setting or the fine acting but the interplay of Susan's woefully misunderstood "psychiatric cabaret" set against the eerily familiar events of the age notably Suez where the amiable hypocrisy of Empire perishes ingloriously in the Egyptian sand. Of course, it is not just current events in Middle East that make the retelling of Hare's play so prescient. The prospect of evergrowing plenty is also fading for new middle-class generations for the first time since the war and we must all face up to the new limits on our own quests for more.
To 26 February (0114 249 6000)
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