|Photo by Richard Farland|
This chamber play, FOUR PLACES, by American writer, Joel Drake Johnson, is a subtly moving comic-tragedy about family and all of its secret lives. That of the four places at a restaurant luncheon: A daughter, Ellen (Amanda Stephens Lee), a son, Warren (Jeremy Waters), a mother, Peggy (Kim Hilllas) and the absent centre of need, the father - not seen or heard, but the catalyst of the subject matter of the play. We get to know the secret lives (motivations) of each, and, also, the collective secret of a family with all of its ways and means to survive as a unit gradually revealed.
The family, especially in the American theatre repertoire, is a core 'tool' for the examination of a nation's concerns: O'Neill's LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, Miller's DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Williams' CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, Albee's A DELICATE BALANCE, Shepard's BURIED CHILD, for instance. In Mr Johnson's play he shows us a family with limited time to resolve its patterns, perhaps, tell, reveal its secrets - it is a play about a family looking to endings.
The performances by this company, including that of Briony Williams, as the restaurant hostess, are delicately plotted, under the steady guidance of the Director, Nicholas Hope. The secrets of this play gradually are heaped upon us to bring us to a place of fretting poignancy, a contemplative place of deep feelings, that may bring guilts and/or a sense of urgency about oneself and one's own family history and its secrets. Ms Hillas, at the centre of the play - I have not seen her before - gives a fairly impressive central performance, humorous, waspish, caring, bitter, exhausted, distressed - a portrait of a bewildered soul. Whilst the anxieties of her children are also brought into focus, with Mr Waters, especially, clear in his progress through a painful arc of character journey.
The Set design by Tom Bannerman is a small miracle of ingenuity and apt function - a small revolve floor in the Tap gallery space - amazing. It needs to be seen to be believed. It is sensitively lit by Rachel Smith and supported with a subtle sound design by Peter Neville.
At only ninety minutes without interval, this is a gem of a play by a writer we have not seen before and worth the time to meet and get to know. FOUR PLACES has "a big, beating, bloody heart at its core" and one which all of us will recognise whether we like it or not.