REVIEW: Waste By Harley Granville Barker, The Almeida
PUBLISHED: 12:02 16 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:31 07 September 2010
Five star rating It s impossible not to compare Harley Granville Barker with Bernard Shaw, his contemporary and admirer. Both deal in ideas; they question morality, point out hypocrisy, and do so with a mastery of irony. The content is universal, contemp
Five star rating
It's impossible not to compare Harley Granville Barker with Bernard Shaw, his contemporary and admirer. Both deal in ideas; they question morality, point out hypocrisy, and do so with a mastery of irony. The content is universal, contemporary even, the treatment quintessentially English.
Waste stands up to the comparison, and if you are in the mood for thought you couldn't see a better production of it than Sam West's; it is compelling, entertaining and lovely to look at.
The play is underpinned by a simple plot: MP Henry Trebell is working to get his disestablishment bill, to which he is ferociously committed, through parliament. As the positions of the key figures involved seem to move towards a promise of success, a young woman makes a visit. She is pregnant; his misdemeanours are revealed.
What happens next is surprisingly dramatic. Interestingly though, this human drama is kept just out of focus, while the attendant issues are brought to the foreground. Abortion, though never named, is a central debate. There's an uncomfortable lack of empathy for the poor young woman - that is left to us. But perhaps that's the point; after all, the play was originally censored for treating so indecent a subject and the play reflects that attitude. The other issue is corruption, and how, in politics, it is necessary not only to grasp this but to engage with it to win: another reason for censorship.
In the most elegant of drawing rooms, decent society is brought convincingly to life. Will Keen brings an emotionally dysfunctional quality to a mesmerising performance as Trebell, and with her matter of fact delivery, Phoebe Nichols is wholly credible as his sister. West has subtly balanced the humour, harvested in handfuls and cut with cold cynicism, with drama, philosophy, and an impressive lack of pretension.
Until November 15.