Two very different plays, done well.
SUSU Theatre Group’s successful interpretation of 1984 last term was always going to be hard to follow, especially fusing two single act shows together into one evening where the focus has to remain over the course of three hours. Nevertheless, SUSU Theatre Group haven’t failed to impress once more with Jez Butterworth’s The Winterling and Chloe Moss’ This Wide Night.
The Winterling was directed by none other than Mike Cottrell, who courted praise for his role as Winston in 1984 and has now taken a backseat behind the scenes, injecting his talents as an actor into his small, but brilliant cast.
The acting ability in The Winterling deserves praise, even with such a courageous text to play with. Robin Harris (Patsy) steals the show for me with his heartfelt and comic performance. Harris is a breath of fresh air when he enters the stage and I certainly cannot wait to see him in future productions. The detail in his facial expressions and the focus he manages to keep throughout the piece meets professional standards and he is an absolute delight to watch, especially as a newcomer to the society. Cottrell’s genius in casting Jed Marshall (Wally) alongside him was brilliant. Marshall effortlessly owns the stage with a chilling and gutsy presentation of Wally and is a force to be reckoned with. Praise has to go to whoever designed Marshall’s costume and makeup, as he is almost unrecognisable when he comes onstage as a middle-aged man.
Jack Wheater (West), as the lead, manages to convey the right emotion for the character and holds us in the palms of his hands throughout. It is a delight seeing him take on such a big role after his previous performance in Romeo and Juliet; he is clearly more than capable of such ambitious roles. The three of them (Harris, Marshall and Wheater) do well to unpick the realms of much-needed comedy in the play.
Special mention must also go to Hannah Dutton, who gives a remarkably delicate performance as Lou – which contrasts nicely to the ballsy character she portrays in the first act. The problem with Dutton’s character however, is her involvement in the not-so-successful portrayal of the flashbacks, causing the audience and myself to become lost at times. This was also the case for Tom Ellis (Draycott) who, although handling the character well, does not allow the distinction between the flashbacks to be clear enough. Perhaps this was a fault in the direction, as evidently there needs to be more than West changing into a jumper to distinguish the past from the present. Unfortunately, the two become lost amongst the talented leads.
The problem with The Winterling is the play itself. With such an intense and emotionally challenging plotline, it becomes very hard to understand what is actually happening on stage. The text itself is draining, with dark themes and tension dominating the moments of comic relief. Unfortunately, the set predominantly lets the play down, with pieces of mismatched furniture and not-so-authentic props placed randomly across the stage. It also makes the entrances and exits unclear, even for the cast, with one member actually tripping over at one point and a glass being smashed. Opening night mishaps were influenced by this but I am aware of the limited time the team had to rehearse in The Annex both with the tech team and with the set.
On reflection, I think binding this play with This Wide Night proved a little over-ambitious, as the audience needs to collect their thoughts afterwards without having to refresh their minds again for the second play. The Winterling itself would have been enough to perform on its own, due to both its length and challenging plotline. I would have happily watched the boys (and Dutton) for another hour, but certainly with a different play.
This Wide Night is a complete contrast to The Winterling, in terms of both its plot and audience enjoyment. Set in the studio flat of Marie (Cat Lewis) awaiting the arrival of her ex prison mate Lorraine (Amy Fitzgibbon), the beautiful timing and perfect casting of the pair makes what is another long play pass by in a flash. Praise has to go to the directors for this; Tara Gilmore, who recently played Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, and Emily Bradshaw, who played Sampson, directed This Wide Night extremely well, with admirable eye for detail and sensitivity to the plotline. I barely made any notes because I was enjoying Fitzgibbon and Lewis’ addictive chemistry; they bounce off each other effortlessly and flawlessly. Fitzgibbon (Lorraine) was a joy to watch, with exceptional comic timing and faultless acting skill. Being such an established actor, it felt like Lewis (Marie) would be upstaged by her, but she meets Fitzgibbon’s impossibly high standards and gives one of the best performances of the night. If you are debating whether to see the double bill, see it for these two at the very least: they are spellbinding and give the piece the life it needs, perfecting the transition between the comedy and tension.
The only criticism I feel I can make with This Wide Night was the fact that, much like The Winterling, it is very long for a one act show. Again, This Wide Night would have been enough on its own and, unfortunately due to the intensity of the first piece, a lot of the audience’s energy had gone into focusing on the one before.
Setwise, the stage is presented well, but many sight-lines had been ruined by the girls performing on the floor, especially Cat (Marie) who I couldn’t see half the time. My note for the directors would be to push the sofa further back so that we can actually see some of the more intimate scenes and the hilarious ‘Floppy Dollies’ game with the pair rolling around the floor. Saying that, I am not the tallest of people, so it is not unusual for me to have to stretch to be able to actually see what is happening. Like in the first piece, the tech was also not on point. There were far too many extended blackouts, and the sound cues were all over the place. However, I am aware there was limited time to go over this thoroughly before opening night.
If you are debating whether to see the double bill which presents The Winterling and This Wide Night then you shouldn’t hesitate. There are certainly some outstanding actors in the society who deserve to be seen, even if some of the risks taken weren’t as successful as they could have been.
Tickets are still available here and performances will be taking place Friday and Saturday at 7pm.