The Trip to Bountiful

Horton Foote
Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton
(2010)

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They say that 'Home is where the heart is' and for Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful this could almost be the subtitle. Foote died last year and it is a great shame that he will never get to see this superb production of his play currently running at The Courtyard Theatre, London.

The Trip to Bountiful tells the tale of Mother Watts, a woman imprisoned in her new home by her dragon of a daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae, and her under-the-thumb and peace-maker son Ludie. Mother Watts is old and knows that she will soon be gone. She longs to feel the dirt under her fingernails once more and one day she finally manages to break free from her oppressive life and return to Bountiful, government cheque in hand, hoping to pick up where she left off.

The production is strong on every front and its only weakness is that it starts a little slowly whilst the characters and their relationships with one another are established. Alison McKenna is wonderful as the red lipstick wearing bitch of a daughter-in-law Jessie Mae. A true symbol of American consumerism, Jessie Mae cares more for Coca Cola than her family and only puts up with Mother Watts due to her government cheque funding her consumer lifestyle. McKenna deftly conveys a character so absorbed in herself that she is immune to others' feelings and she even manages to get under the audience members' skin and make you loathe her egoistical actions.

Raymond Murray Sage as Ludie tries his hardest to mediate between the two women in his life and shows how difficult it is to try and keep the peace and everyone happy. There are some extremely tender scenes between Sage and Alicia Farnworth as Mother Watts and their strong mother-son bond is truly believable.

Farnworth is glorious in the role of Mother Watts and astounding to watch. Her portrayal of the elderly lady is moving in every sense and the audience feels touched as the character sets out on her own personal journey to the past. Farnworth places her character somewhere between the dotty old granny losing her marbles and the insecure and fearful old lady who knows that she will soon be dead. There is a great sense of accomplishment when Mother Watts finally reaches Bountiful and Farnworth displays this in an almost childlike excitement, but this is soon met with grief as she is forced to mourn the loss of many a dear friend. The real test of an actor is whether empathy is created and not only does Farnworth achieve this easily, we as the audience become fellow members of the grieving congregation as she begins to mourn all that she has lost in life.

A cleverly designed revolving omniprop is used to portray a myriad of settings. With a slight change of its wooden Wild West shutter configuration a wall, a bus, a cupboard, a ticket office, a wardrobe and even a ballroom is conjured. An effective lighting design of sepia tones successfully evokes the golden haze of yester year and contributes to the high quality feel of a production set seventy years ago in the largest of American States.

The film version of The Trip to Bountiful won the Academy Award for Best Actress (Geraldine Page) in 1985 and this theatrical production deserves to win numerous awards 25 years on in 2010.

Playing until 1st August 2010

Reviewer: Simon Sladen