Theatre Review: Port

By - Tuesday 5th February, 2013

Darkest Stockport is only 30 minutes from East Croydon via the National Theatre’s admirable production

Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, Waterloo
Time from East Croydon 30 minutes
31st January – 2nd March 2013

Regular readers will know what a fan I am of the National Theatre. While not everything it produces is an unmissable smash hit, a ticket for an evening at this great British institution almost always guarantees an engaging and enjoyable few hours. Even better, it’s half an hour at most from East Croydon station. A change at London Bridge or Clapham Junction will see you through to Waterloo in no time, and then it’s a five minute walk to the South Bank.

But enough about the venue (however lovely its Brutalist design, or reasonably priced its G&Ts may be). The National’s present revival of Simon Stephens’ 2002 play about his home town of Stockport is well worth a look. Beginning the story of Racheal (sic) and her brother Billy with the night their mother left them, it guides us through Racheal’s subsequent journey and Billy’s fluctuating role in her life.

In casting an dissatisfied eye over 13 years – the play begins in 1988 and ends in 2001 – Stephens’ text takes the audience on an intimate, highly personal tour of Stockport. In the place of ancient churches, Roman roads, and relics of the Industrial Revolution, we find ourselves observing action at bus stations, back rooms in supermarkets, and patio-heatered-pub gardens. These are all skilfully presented, with the set design and transitions masterfully handled.

It’s worth seeing purely on the strength of the lead, Kate O’Flynn

The action itself, however, is something of a mixed bag. The cavernous Lyttelton Theatre does Stephens’ text no favours, and some scenes suffer when the depth of the stage makes it difficult to divine the subtlety in the cast’s broadly excellent performances. Sitting near the front of the stalls would seem to be a must. The text itself meanders somewhat and at times seems to lose focus – a problem assuaged somewhat (but not completely) by director Marianne Elliot’s excellent pacing. The storyline, insofar as there can be said to be one, at first appears simplistic, then veers towards something quite powerful in a ‘loved and lost’ plotline (aided by Callum Callaghan’s effortlessly understated performance), and then peters out. One gets the impression that this is rather the point – without wishing to create preconceptions for potential audience members – but the final scene didn’t quite deliver for me.

Nevertheless, this is a skilfully executed production of a play which I suspect was originally intended for the smaller Cottesloe Theatre (which is soon to close for renovations). It’s worth seeing purely on the strength of the lead, Kate O’Flynn. Constantly engaging and managing that delicate balancing act of being animated without seeming camp or, worse, irritating, O’Flynn gives a superb performance that will stay with you for some time after the curtain has fallen. The cast as a whole are excellent, with John Biggins almost stealing the first half as an exasperated and larger-than-life supermarket manager. But it is O’Flynn who drives the play, a fact which makes this production something which is not to be missed. Don’t go in expecting a life-changing examination of the human spirit. What Port offers is something altogether more tender. Simon Stephens’ seemingly trademarked ability to challenge an audience is eerily absent, but that doesn’t make the performance any less enjoyable. Get yourself to the National, buy a G&T and some Wasabi peas, and let it all wash over you.

The Citizen is always looking for more reviewers. If you have something to contribute about a theatre, restaurant or public event which you feel Croydonians should be taking advantage of, contact us today.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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