4000 Miles

Amy Herzog

Theatre Royal, Bath

Print Room, Notting Hill

From 14 May 2013 to 01 June 2013

Review by Philip Fisher

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Laurence Boswell is doing a great service to theatre by bringing a varied selection of the best contemporary work from Off -Broadway to the UK, via the Ustinov Studio at the Theatre Royal in Bath.

His latest transatlantic transfer showcases the prodigious talent of Amy Herzog, whose The Great God Pan would make a fine addition to the list of future imports.

This is a writer who has a great feel for speech patterns and characterisation, while seemingly not feeling any obligation to write traditional plots, preferring ambiguity to well-made plays.

4000 Miles centres on a relationship that is unusual on stage, that between an octogenarian Manhattan grandmother, Sara Kestelman as Vera and her grown-up grandson.

The thoroughly convincing Daniel Boyd is Leo, a lovable eccentric who comes from St Paul but has arrived in the Big Apple after cycling the whole way (4000 miles) across the continent from the West Coast near to Seattle.

Both are troubled and provide each other with mutual support, helped by their Communist leanings albeit from different generations.

While Vera frustratedly struggles to find words, keys and teeth, she is loves the opportunity to spend time with her grandson who helps to stave off the inevitable loneliness as her contemporaries fall like flies.

Leo isn't much better off, having difficult relationships with his parents, adoptive sister and girlfriend. His mental state is hardly helped by the loss of his best friend Micah in an accident during the bike marathon that sounds like something out of a Roadrunner cartoon.

The heart of 4000 Miles lies in the beautifully delineated relationship between old and young and the talking therapies that each provides to the other. The 90 minutes are then broken up by two visitors.

Jenny Hulse is Leo's girlfriend (then ex-) Bec, who loves the young man but finds him too confusing to contemplate spending the rest of her life with.

The evening's comic interlude is introduced in the bizarre form of Jing Lusi's hilarious Amanda, a Chinese valley girl with excesses of attitude and rainbow eye shadow.

Within a compact, busy Simon Caney-designed apartment, James Dacre directs a strong cast with Sara Kestelman belying her years to charm everyone present in a packed theatre both on and off stage.

The free flow of a plot that allows viewers to concentrate on the main characters and their predicaments rather than a strong contemporary story proves that, even at a time when soap opera threatens to invade every aspect of life, there are still writers who can imitate true life with imagination and brio.

The joy of an Amy Herzog play lies in her ability to depict ordinary humanity at times of stress and, somewhat unusually for a young female playwright, she has a tremendous knack of getting beneath the skin of both young men and older women.