Hampstead Downstairs / Celia Atkin
The accents and geography may be designed to obfuscate, but any viewer who follows news and media stories will instantly recognise the target in Hannah Patterson’s mildly fictionalised tale.
Michael Simkins plays Aaron Chase, a bullying American businessman who wants to create the best golf course in the world in an area of natural beauty and always gets what he wants.
Where many of his ilk might have chosen Aberdeenshire, Chase chooses a coastal location somewhere in the north of England, judging by the accents of the locals.
Even in the early scenes, when he is attempting to charm Yolanda Kettle’s Sophie, a relatively junior member of one of his corporate marketing teams, the steel shines through a very thin veneer of politeness.
Coincidentally (and coincidence is rife throughout the two-hour running time), Sophie happens to hail from Eden, the town that Chase wishes to transform, whatever the cost.
Using all of his bombastic corporate skills, the entrepreneur persuades the town council that housing, a school, jobs and a chance to put the area on the map are worth sacrificing a habitat that the local geomorphologist, Jane played by Mariah Gale, concludes in a lengthy report is unique.
As it happens, Jane and Sophie are former lovers, while Jane’s father Bob portrayed by Sean Jackson virtually brought up the orphaned returning marketeer.
For reasons that only become entirely apparent in the closing stages of the evening, Bob decides to dig in, protesting volubly and refusing to sell his farm, despite a series of increasingly dirty tricks perpetrated by Chase Enterprises.
The battle that ensues involves much plotting and subterfuge, with emotions batting backwards and forwards at a rate of knots.
Under the skilful direction of Matthew Xia in a very short, thrust playing space, Michael Simkins gives a chilling performance as the egotistical American who behaves so cynically that Aaron Chase could conceivably make a play for President in a sequel.
He gets good support all round, with Yolanda Kettle, Mariah Gale and Sean Jackson all interacting well and garnering appropriate sympathy for their characters, while Laurietta Essien as the beleaguered local council chair and Adrian Richards making his presence felt in a number of minor roles all contribute to a gently entertaining evening.
With such a strong director and cast, it seems likely that Edward Hall has a transfer to the main Hampstead stage in mind. However, in its current version, this light entertainment seems a little like a work in progress, with well-drawn characters and situation but plotting that is overly formulaic and very predictable.
However, there is powerful subject matter here and, with further work, something a little subtler could emerge as a popular hit.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher