By Ruth Leon
24 Jun 2012
Photo by Helen Maybanks
In South Downs, he doesn't let us down. This is a fine piece of work, set in a similar school some 30 years later and deliberately designed as a companion to The Browning Version, a cross-cast group of actors play out the inevitable tensions when adolescent boys are juxtaposed with adults who mean them both good and ill. In The Browning Version, a brilliant but unpopular teacher whose wife is having an all-too-public affair with a colleague rediscovers himself and his values through a gift from a student, an unexpected kindness that is life-changing. An act of kindness is also the machine that informs South Downs. This time the kindness flows from an adult to an unpopular schoolboy, an unusual child who also needs to believe in himself and to learn to like his differentness. Both plays, which collectively run no longer than an average single play, together form a thoroughly satisfying evening in the theatre. South Downs/The Browning Version plays the Harold Pinter Theatre.
The subtext of Children's Children, a new play by Matthew Dunster at the Almeida, is not very sub- at all. In fact, the environmental message it contains could, and perhaps should, be emblazoned on the Almeida's nonexistent front curtain or the front page of the daily newspapers. Whether it can be clearly understood as the subtext of a drama is the job of the attentive audience for Children's Children. The plot concerns old friends who have grown apart — one has become successful, one has not — and what happens to them over several years. There is very fine acting, as you would expect from the Almeida, and many points to ponder in Dunster's impassioned plea for action.
I'm praying that Helen Edmundson's Mary Shelley makes it across the Atlantic intact from the Tricycle Theatre so that American audiences can enjoy the meticulous staging, beautiful performances and delicate writing encapsulated in what, on the surface, seems a straightforward biographical play about the woman who, at the age of 18, wrote "Frankenstein," one of the seminal novels of the 19th century. Born of a freethinking father, the philosopher William Godwin, and an early feminist mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary's relationships with her sisters, her father, her stepmother and above all the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley are the meat of this terrific play. Edmundson makes them all more than believable; she makes them real and human, and I suspect that if I ever hear anything about any of them that contradicts her, I shall not believe it.
(Ruth Leon is a London and New York City arts writer and critic whose work has been seen in Playbill magazine and other publications.)
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