4000 Days

Peter Quilter
Covent Garden Productions in association with Park Theatre
Park Theatre

Daniel Weyman and Alistair McGowan Credit: Rory Lindsay
Maggie Ollerenshaw Credit: Rory Lindsay
Daniel Weyman and Alistair McGowan Credit: Rory Lindsay

There is an underpowered quality to Peter Quilter’s play 4000 Days about the character Michael (Alistair McGowan) who wakes up in a hospital bed from a three-week coma to discover he has forgotten the previous eleven years.

The show begins with Michael’s partner Paul and his mother Carol sharing a vigil by his unconscious body. They may care for Michael but they don’t get on with each other.

Paul suspects Carol would like to "make Michael straight". Carol accuses Paul of discouraging Michael from his work as an artist and being over-controlling. Their disagreements escalate when Michael wakes with no memory of Paul, whom he only met ten years before.

At the centre of this competition for the love of Michael is a strange absence. It is the character of Michael himself. He just doesn’t seem to react.

You would expect a person with head injuries who discovered they had forgotten their partner and eleven years of their life to give more than Michael’s shrug of his shoulders. There are harrowing tales of Alzheimer's victims being extremely frightened to suddenly feel their lifelong partner is a stranger. Not so for Michael. He shrugs and decides to paint a mural on a long length of hospital wall.

Alistair McGowan as Michael is given too little to do and so he does this awkwardly, adopting camp mannerisms as if to fill the character’s void.

There is also something improbable about that hospital where we neither see nor hear staff beyond someone moving props between scenes and who seem to have allowed Michael to turn his hospital room into an artist’s studio though it is a studio where the mural emerges without a sign of paint brushes, pots, or cleaning materials. And a place where not a drop of paint is spilled.

The awkwardness also extends to Maggie Ollerenshaw as Carol though she is given a lot to say. The problem here is the one-dimensional nature of the character. Carol is possessive, probably lonely and speaks with a consistent tone of sarcastic irritability. It is a difficult part to make truly believable and Maggie begins the play with a stiff self-consciousness and though that stiffness generally disappears the permanent grouchiness of the character must make it hard for her to truly relax.

All this places great weight on the play’s third and only really shaded character of Paul, who with conflicted emotions as he tries to demonstrate his love for Michael, is given an energetic and convincing performance by Daniel Weyman. But, pitched against the character of Michael who doesn’t really have anything to do and Carol who says lots in one shade only, Paul cannot alone make the play interesting for its two-hour stretch.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna