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Alligators

Andrew Keatley
Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

Alec Newman (Daniel) Credit: Robert Day
Leah Whitaker (Rachel) and Susan Stanley (Sally) Credit: Robert Day
Tillie Murray (Genevieve) and Susan Stanley (Sally) Credit: Robert Day

Alligators is a play that feels all too relevant in these prurient times. The issues that it addresses are constantly on the front pages of our newspapers but rarely seen from the perspective that Andrew Keatley has chosen.

Having said that, this is hardly the first play to focus on teachers accused of misconduct by their pupils or students, especially involving sexual impropriety with minors.

The drama takes place on a wonderfully detailed traverse set created by Polly Sullivan, which encompasses much of the third floor flat of Daniel and Sally Turner and their two children.

It opens happily enough, as the couple try to get a little time together, which isn’t easy with a seven-year-old and a crying baby.

An indeterminate interview with the headmaster, an old friend, seems unlikely to cause problems for Alec Newman’s Daniel but in a swift downwards spiral before an unspecified incident becomes an accusation of misconduct with a 14-year-old, seven years before.

The Kafkaesque nightmare that ensues inevitably embroils Susan Stanley as Sally and before too long their super-bright daughter Genevieve, played by the superbly assured Tillie Murray on press night. It is the seven-year-old who christens the play, concerned about the Alligators attacking her father, though whether her forked stick will be much use against equally dangerous allegations is open to question.

Throughout the ordeal, the frostily calm Leah Whitaker playing solicitor Rachel is a rock, much needed in this hard place.

Viewers will identify with the desperation felt by Daniel, as his life spins out of control. An unfounded accusation is one thing, but when the teacher’s name appears first on the Internet and then in the Daily Mail attached to claims about which the police are carrying out an investigation but have made no arrest, that seems justification for panic.

It only gets worse when, despite police protection, vigilantes somehow attack and put graffiti on to the family’s front door.

Alec Newman gives an outstanding performance as a man seeing his life and career disintegrating, despite the great support that he gets from both wife and solicitor.

Andrew Keatley’s strength lies in this depiction, while director Simon Evans, who works so well with his cast, might have done well to iron out a few of the plotting inconsistencies and twists, without which Alligators could have been a significantly better play. For example, on three separate occasions we learn that Daniel hid relevant, if damaging, facts not only from the audience but also his wife and the solicitor trying to defend him. A social worker also makes a weak and unresolved appearance.

Even so, this is a worthwhile work that will make viewers think about a series of important issues, which is never a bad thing. It also means that anyone sitting in the audience will begin to wonder how they would react if faced by similar circumstances and the answer will not leave anyone feeling comfortable.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher