The Hope Theatre, London – until 20 May 2017
Dennis Potter’s controversial and previously banned, dark, harrowing and twisted comedy, is perhaps not as shocking today as it undoubtedly was back in the 70’s. However, what’s notable about this 40th anniversary revival which has been innovatively directed by The Hope Theatre’s resident Artistic Director, Matthew Parker, is the boundless sub-text that flows throughout the piece.
The daily drudgery and torment that punctuates the lives of Mr and Mrs Bates is abundantly evident from the outset. While their physically and mentally handicapped daughter, Pattie (Olivia Beardsley) writhes in bed uttering unintelligible grunts, shrieks and moans, Mr Bates (Paul Clayton) quickly establishes himself as a man who isn’t easy to please. He seems intent on belittling his wife, Mrs Bates (Stephanie Beattie) at every possible moment, while she mithers and incessantly jabbers on to her daughter in the vague hope of catalysing a miracle. In stark contrast, Mr Bates seems overly keen on writing his daughter off, despite what appears to be an unguarded tender moment when he sings to her while his wife is away from the room in which they spend the majority of their time. The arrival of Martin (Fergus Leathem) is fortuitous and disturbing in equal measure, claiming to be an ex beau of Pattie’s, he is received with welcome arms by a simpering Mrs Bates and with extreme caution by her husband. Mr Bates is right to be on his guard, Martin is not who he claims to be. He interacts with the audience frequently, revealing his true colours – which are extremely ugly. Having wormed his way into the Bates’ home, the next step of his wicked scheme is to coax ‘mumsy’ (the name he’s given to Mrs Bates) out of the house, and once that plan comes to fruition, events take a chilling turn.
The set was enough to give the impression that we had travelled back in time to the seventies, attention to detail was clear, kudos to Rachael Ryan. The same goes for the costumes, so carefully chosen that when coupled with the scenery they created a picture perfect setting. The intimacy of the space lent itself superbly to this piece, too – intensifying the uncomfortableness of the ensuing horrors as they unfolded.
Stephanie Beattie is an actor whom Break A Leg are extremely familiar with, she brings heart, overt vulnerability blended seamlessly with incredible comic timing to her character. We were so immersed in her performance that we almost forgot that it was Beattie playing the role. Olivia Beardsley has probably got the toughest role, given that the hit and run accident from two years previously which is responsible for her current state has rendered her so completely incapacitated. She spends the vast majority of the ninety minute production writhing, wriggling and crying out and Beardsley didn’t lose focus for a second. Paul Clayton was extremely authoritative as Mr Bates and came into his own towards the end of the piece, especially when he became caught up in elation at having an ‘intelligent’ debate with Martin. Fergus Leathem was deliciously devilish and cunningly creepy as Martin, from his monotone rendition of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to his sickly sweet flattery of Mrs Bates, I can imagine no better actor for the part. Leathem is definitely one to watch!
Dennis Potter’s writing is an acquired taste, however if you would like a taste of his work, then there is no better place to start than with this production. There are only two weeks left to see Brimstone & Treacle so book now!