Rosemary Branch Theatre
First produced at Hampstead Theatre in 1991, though this production by Ed Bartram is the first I've seen, this is a play that cleverly combines two time sequences, but it took me some time to realise that's what was going on.
It is set in a boarding house on the Cumbrian coast not far from Sellafield nuclear power station and processing plant. A woman comes here looking for her husband, recognizing the house from a postcard she has received from that he has sardonically inscribed 'Wish You Were Here!'
No one admits to having seen him but the next thing we know a journalist chasing a story about anti-nuclear activists who seems to exactly match her description of him turns up also asking for a room. Scenes involving them now overlap, the other characters often being involved in both time-segments.
The play is inhabited by rather eccentric characters that form a sort of metaphor for the disrupted nature of contemporary life. The journalist and his wife are a marriage that clearly.has broken down but the people in the boarding house suggest something much darker.
The television addicted landlady Brenda is surrounded by a plethora of pets: a gerbil hiding in the sofa, a dog, a parrot going by the name of Moby Dick. She doesn't have a high opinion of herself. 'I'd like to be bright, she says, 'but I'm thick.' The complete set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is used to prop up wonky furniture rather than being read - though from it she has learned what 'cephalic index' means. Joanne Hildon gets her just right, with her waddley walk and open face. It seems perfectly natural for her to answer the question 'Does it always rain like this? by saying 'Yes, it's the weather.'
With her live wheelchair-bound Tom, a one- man protest group (Simon Norbury, swinging between manic and gently caring) and her son Sam (John Shortell) ghoulishly occupied with filming a video-nasty behind her back. But there is something much more nasty that they are trying to forget.
Tom Harris's disillusioned journalist David sometimes seems disillusioned with his own performance but begins to make sense of the character in an effective drunk scene. It is easy to see why he has abandoned the lacklustre, rather awkward Jane (Stephanie Goodfellow) who could perhaps have been allowed a little more personality to engage our interest..
Then there is the enigmatic figure of Buddy, a man who used to train US Air force flyers, travelled from Montana to Cumbria via the moon - the astronaut whose name no-one remembers and now haunts the beach where he provides a watery baptism that may offer a fresh chance in life.
Johnson lightens his script with flashes of humour but this production moves between big shock effects and very restrained playing that does not encourage laughs and concentrates on the unsettling brooding atmosphere that the storm clouds surrounding designer Naomi Taylor's domestic interior help create.
Until 11th October 2009
Reviewer: Howard Loxton