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Cradle Me

Simon Vinnicombe
SAW Productions
Finborough Theatre
(2008)

Publicity photo

This a play about human need, brought into focus by the death of Nick, a teenage boy with a passion for reggae which he has shared with the boy next door, seventeen-year-old Dan. What are the repercussions of that loss on the boy's family: mother Marion, father Graham and sister Louise, and on Dan, who idolised Nick and now becomes besotted with his mother?

Dan says he likes reggae because 'it's how you feel without any of the rubbish that gets in the way,' and it is exactly that directness that makes me like this play. Vinnicombe's writing cuts to the heart of things and from comparison with the published script director Duncan Macmillan has pared away even more. It is tightly written and tightly played with such reality that it can even dispense with dialogue as we sit listening with the characters to a Toots Hibbert reggae record. Not that this gets a 'realistic' production. The script especially asks that there should be no emphasis on creating a reality in terms of costume, set or lighting and that scene changes should not be hidden in blackouts or covered by music.

The scene changes are beautifully directed. Often one character remains within a scene while others move or bring in props or furniture in an easy segue into the next, without seeming overly contrived. Paul Burgess's design packs elements of kitchen, garden and bedrooms into a traverse but while the staging is always a reminder that we are in the theatre Macmillan's direction is never obtrusive allowing his cast to deliver intense performances.

Paul Hersberg as Graham, a father whom work demands have made too distant from his family, not only gives us a man trying to rediscover his dead son through his friend but manages to suggest his divided feelings on realising that someone else appears to give his wife a happiness he can't. Sarah Bedi's Louise, a self-conscious twelve years old, concerned that everyone will be watching her reactions at the funeral, is both the youngster boldly inquisitive about sex and a savage critic of her mother's involvement with young Dan, her moral indignation tinged with jealousy.

That relationship is at the centre of the play. Marion, initially immune to Dan's declaration of his love for her, finds her self emotionally, then physically responding and Sharon Maughan captures that transition from a mother finding her son's friend a help in her own grief to a woman newly awakened and suddenly losing her scruples. What is it she responds to? Is it Dan's innocence, his romanticism, his puppyish devotion, or a recognition of what is lacking in her own life? He is no young Adonis and, Louise says he is not liked at school; she claims her brother only befriended him out of pity. Luke Treadaway gives him a vulnerability that underlies his enthusiasm and vivacity. This is a superb performance from his first appearance in a state of shock to a self-contrived declaration of his love singing along to a record, full of naïve exuberance. It is also part of a splendid piece of teamwork by the whole company, beautifully matched to this theatre's scale.

Until 25th October 2008

Reviewer: Howard Loxton