New Writing North in a co-production with Northern Stage, Darlington Civic Theatre, Durham Book Festival and the Customs House, South Shields
Northern Stage, Newcastle
From 24 October 2012 to 27 October 2012
Review by Peter Lathan
Reagan (Alex Elliott), a manager in a local authority social work department, is visited by a Boy (Jack McMillan) as he works late at night in his small office. How the boy got past security is unclear but Reagan takes him to be a homeless lad looking for somewhere to spend the night. He offers to find him a place in a hostel but the Boy begs to be allowed to stay in the office. Eventually Reagan agrees, on condition that the Boy does not disturb him as he has much “important work” to do.
To reveal any more would be a major spoiler but suffice it to say that the pre-publicity calls the piece “office Gothic” and refers to Reagan as a “haunted social worker.”
Although on the surface a straightforward confrontation between someone let down by the system and someone who administers it, there are deeper layers, elements of fairy tale, ambiguous ghost stories such as The Turn of the Screw and, for me at any rate, reminders of Turandot, to the extent that Nessun dorma remained in my head for quite some considerable time afterwards.
The playing space in Northern Stage’s Stage 2 is not large but designer Verity Quinn has reduced it further, creating a claustrophobic office, crowded with furniture and files, and with a distorted perspective, which adds to the sense of displacement from reality but not so much that it ceases to be real. The ambiguity of the piece is reflected in the setting.
The climax, when it arrives, is not unexpected but did not, for me, have quite the impact it should have had. I don’t think this is the fault of the writing but rather of the direction. The pace was too even, the emotional pitch too much on one level, so that the sense of acceleration towards an inexorable ending wasn’t strong enough, so that we almost drifted into what could have been a much more powerful, shocking moment.