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PATRICK MARMION reviews The Southbury Child

The Southbury Child (Festival Theatre, Chichester)

Verdict: funny but touching

Who wouldn’t want to see Alex Jennings of The Crown play a vicar?

With his friendly, patrician face, he seems heaven sent for the role of Reverend David Highland.

But in Stephen Beresford’s amusing and ultimately sad new play, we must also imagine his Devonshire predecessor as a drunkard and a sexual womanizer.

His even bigger problem, however, is the mother of a dead child who wants Disney balloons at her daughter’s funeral. She longs to celebrate her daughter’s short life; he believes that death should be looked straight in the eye.

Anyway, I couldn’t believe such a good-natured old stick would choose to take Custer’s Last Stand over an issue like this. Inevitably, his hardline will turn the community against him — but it also seemed too far-fetched to me to be believable.

Who wouldn't want to see Alex Jennings of The Crown play a vicar?  With his friendly, patrician face, he looks like heaven sent for the part of Reverend David Highland

Who wouldn’t want to see Alex Jennings of The Crown play a vicar? With his friendly, patrician face, he looks like heaven sent for the part of Reverend David Highland

Beresford has been widely acclaimed since his Chekhovian drama The Last Of The Haussmans was staged at the National Theater in 2012.

If he’d revealed a higher-stakes personal dilemma underlying Highland’s decision, or offered a more thorough examination of the hapless vicar’s conscience, it might have worked.

Instead, his Alan Bennettish dialogue lets David loose, with a heap of very English irony and witticisms that lessen the tension (Bennett, on the other hand, has always been wary of such overtly emotional material).

Jennings links spiritual unease with flashes of fear, despite reaching for a cheap whiskey or a sour comment too often. In particular, he laments the fact that he failed to observe the first rule of canon law: “Don’t fuck the flock.”

Phoebe Nicholls has the patience of a saint like his wife, who somehow keeps the household together; while Jo Herbert, as his sexually frustrated teacher’s daughter, dutifully takes up the slack in his parish responsibilities.

It’s left to David’s adopted daughter (Racheal Ofori) – a black, militant atheist – to be more funny, although at times (like her joke about how she has a Lithuanian hooker’s dress sense) she sounds like an authoritarian voice.

Jack Greenlees, as the gay, pin-up curate, ticks the remaining boxes of ecclesiastical and sexual politics. The locals are mainly represented by Josh Finan, as the cheerful fat brother of the deceased child.

Funnily enough, he’s used to asking deep, existential questions; yet he is also prone to annoying problems for which he has never been called to account.

Thanks to one of his jokes in the second half, Beresford’s plot diverges from what should be the powerful story of the titular child. Indeed, Sarah Twomey as the mother of that child, who should be the moral and emotional conscience of the play, is reduced to an awkwardly gripping sideshow.

Despite these flaws, there is much to enjoy in this vision of a rural community, with its annual festival blessing the city’s river for safety and fertility (echoes of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem).

Sir Nicholas Hytner’s light-hearted production skips over the underlying pain. And Mark Thompson’s set of a flagstone rectory kitchen with a Norman church beyond is a great comfort to the eye.

But with fewer jokes and a less funny tone, it could have been a better piece: capturing the very real pain of a church and a country that – as Beresford has pointed out – is going through extremely uncomfortable changes.

From July 1, following its run in Chichester, The Southbury Child will move to The Bridge Theater in London SE1.

Vibrant history lesson celebrating girl power

Amazingly wonderful women Who changed the world? (Theatre Royal, Stratford East)

Rating: rating showbiz 4

Verdict: six for six-year-olds

This one show is a celebration of girl power through the ages – in neon colors. It’s a six for six-year-olds, a history lesson and a call to arms: don’t be afraid to do good, don’t be fragile like a flower but fragile like a bomb.

Talented playwright/lyricist Chris Bush puts a young girl at the center of Kate Pankhurst’s picture book. Jade is left on a school trip, alone in a museum of heroines from the sky, land and sea. She is picked up in every way by aviator Amelia Earhart, persuaded to develop her sense and sensitivity by Jane Austen and thrown into the deep end by Olympic swimmer Gertrude Ederle.

Emmeline Pankhurst — a distant relative of the author — reminds her that with only half as many women as men in parliament, the work is not done.

I’m still singing thanks to Miranda Cooper who gives the show the poptastic sound of her hits for the Sugababes and Girls Aloud.

But it’s not all cheerful. In a particularly poignant moment, Rosa Parks hugs Jade and Anne Frank and says she’s just refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Yet it changed the world.

Georgina Brown

A Doll’s House, Part 2 (Donmar Warehouse, London)

Rating: rating showbiz 1

Verdict: insufferable

That’s Not Who I Am (Royal Court Theatre, London)

Rating: rating showbiz 1

Verdict: Hoax

A Doll’s House, Part 2 is one of the most condescending theatrical sermons I’ve ever had to experience. American writer Lucas Hnath has condescended to revisit Henrik Ibsen’s 19th-century Norwegian melodrama about a woman who abandons her husband and children, viewing it as an opportunity to pronounce a pontificate over the institution. wedding.

He begins by having Ibsen’s respected feminist heroine Nora (Noma Dumezweni) return to her husband Torvald (Brian F. O’Byrne) to demand that he sign the divorce he promised 15 years earlier.

But her ultimatum is not issued until she teaches his bewildered housekeeper (June Watson) about how and why marriage destroys women’s lives.

She then turns on her still-traumatized husband and explains to him again why he is a hopeless person and why their marriage was rotten to the bone.

Any attempt to interrupt her speech is greeted with an incredulous frown. Even her grown daughter (Patricia Allison) is patronized as a not yet fully formed “mini-me.”

For thousands of years, drama has acquainted heroes and heroines with their shortcomings. Not here. This 95-minute dose of pedagogical self-reinforcement feels at least three times longer, thanks to Dumezweni’s Nora.

Her ultimatum is issued only after she lectures his bewildered housekeeper (June Watson) about how and why marriage destroys women's lives

Her ultimatum is issued only after she lectures his bewildered housekeeper (June Watson) about how and why marriage destroys women’s lives

She is so extremely important to herself that even the prospect of prison or poverty does not offend her. She is immune to theatrical prosecution.

Pompously reporting on her Byzantine love life, her condescending final blow is to reject the divorce she’s been demanding all along on the grounds that she now finds it… condescending!

Condescension is structural in James Macdonald’s production though, from the moment the roof of the stage is solemnly lifted to reveal a set of…a pair of chairs on a crunchy orange floor.

The production also blends Hnath’s tuneless modern profanity with starchy period costumes, so he can be sure to talk to the retarded past in the language of four-letter enlightenment.

Personally, I could find no interest in the possible outcomes of the story, except for one: coming home.

Meanwhile, another haute bourgeois theater salon, the Royal Court, has nearly accomplished the arduous task of making its own foundation disappear.

The trigger is a hoax from a new play by Lucy Kirkwood, which creates a terror of danger by impersonating a play by ‘Dave Davison’ about online identity theft.

Kirkwood seems to find it hilarious to present her fictional docudrama about a young couple who find themselves as undercover investigators in a void of isolation and deep state paranoia.

The piece charts the young couple’s journey, from their meeting in a restaurant in 2011, to living together and having a baby, before his YouTube conspiracy theories during the lockdown led to both of them… being murdered.

The whole setup is completely fake and the most real thing about the show is a scene during the lockdown where the couple washes their groceries.

Jake Davies, as the lying young handyman, is unfathomably casual, but the show’s greatest asset is the always eye-catching Siena Kelly as the young geriatric nurse. She is a bubbly young actor who goes from carefree flirtation to radicalized neurotic through childbirth.

Priyanga Burford is given the hollow job of playing the author-narrator who claims this is an important and dangerous investigation.

Unfortunately, the world is full of really important and dangerous investigations that Kirkwood could have done better.

Director Lucy Morrison has lured us into the theatre, taking the sensible precaution not to pause the two-hour deposition, in order to thwart the audience’s drive away.

Patrick Marmion

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