REVIEW: Small Change Donmar, Covent Garden

Four star rating If the spirit of DH Lawrence hovers above this work, it s hardly surprising. Writer and director Peter Gill directed a celebrated series of Lawrence s plays at the Royal Court in the 60s and his underrated work covers similar emotional t

Four star rating

If the spirit of DH Lawrence hovers above this work, it's hardly surprising.

Writer and director Peter Gill directed a celebrated series of Lawrence's plays at the Royal Court in the 60s and his underrated work covers similar emotional terrain.

In this often blistering 1976 work, Lawrentian themes such as suffocated passion between men and stifling relationships between sons and mothers are strikingly in evidence.

Set in Cardiff in a gritty working-class environment between the 1950s and 70s, we are introduced to Gerard and Vincent, two young lads flailing their way towards adult identities. But their development is stunted by the less than nurturing households in which they live.

The talented but over-sensitive Gerard's relationship of mutual dependence with his self-martyred mother (the superb Sue Johnston) is decidedly unhealthy. And their Catholic faith is both a blessing and a curse. Nearby, the more solid but inhibited Vincent lives with his alienated and spiritually adrift mother, Mrs Driscoll. Both women are trapped in loveless marriages.

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Despite the earthy subject matter, Gill eschews a naturalistic structure and his dialogue, with its non-linear loops, suggests an experimental musical score.

Anthony Ward's set, a raised crimson platform expertly lit by Hugh Vanstone, glows like some purgatorial limbo and serves to brutally highlight the language.

What emerges from the well- crafted piece is a stifled emotional bond between the boys that was never allowed physical expression.

A climactic showdown, where Matt Ryan's brilliantly embittered Gerard confronts Luke Evans' compelling Vincent with what they both know is riveting and makes up for earlier moments of melodrama and mawkishness. And although the writer allows his characters unfeasible insights and flights of lyrical brilliance, his is such a unique voice, you can forgive him anything.

Until May 31.

David Gavan

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