The Maths Tutor

Clare McIntyre
Hampstead Theatre
(2003)

Anthony Clark's first production since he took over as Hampstead's new artistic director is a mix of very good and very bad. The first half-hour is unpromising in the extreme, as the audience is introduced to a series of cardboard characters.

The action takes place in the holiday home of Paul and Jane, a couple so happily married that they appear to have overdosed on Prozac. They have taken custody of JJ, the unhappy son of clichéd estate agent Anna. She is divorced, drinks, rooks the clients and happily has affairs in front of her 15 year-old.

JJ spends most of his time with Paul and Jane's son, Tom, both appearing way below their age, which fits in with the extra Maths lessons given by Martin Wenner's titular Brian. These appear to be more 11 plus than GCSE.

After half an hour or so though, the Prozac wears off and the play takes on a major issue rarely seen on the stage. In semi-darkness, Brian is seen in the clutches of another character and rather than Sally Dexter's flirty Anna, it is happily married Paul.

The plot takes a further leap, as Ben McKay's young JJ (not very convincingly) accuses his Maths tutor of molestation. This really invigorates the play and leads to the exploration of many interesting moral issues.

While Tricia Kelly as Jane was forced to live with the fact that her husband was gay, her discovery that he had taken his son's teacher for a lover leads to a moving confrontation while Paul (Christopher Ravenscroft) is forced to face up to the problems that his hidden life has caused.

The innocent Brian faces the loss of his career, and presumably prison, entirely as a result of his sexual preference. Paul's attempts to protect him inevitably make matters worse.

The fact that in today's society, the accusations of an unstable, dishonest 15 year-old could wreck the lives of a series of adults is a matter for serious debate. While Clare McIntyre has a few misses along way, she does manage to show the moral dilemmas that her characters are forced to suffer and ultimately, brings them to a reasonably happy conclusion.

Patrick Connelan's simple, elegant, minimalist set, consisting largely of interlocking picture frames overseen by a pair of symbolic doves, combines with thoughtfully chosen music to add considerable atmospheric effect.

The acting particularly from Tricia Kelly as the spiritually martyred Jane in the second half together with Martin Wenner as the wronged Brian is good and Anthony Clark's direction comes into its own after a very rocky initial half-hour. He is also very good with his darkened, freeze-frame transitions between scenes.

The Maths Tutor explores a series of interesting contemporary issues and despite its weaknesses is well worth the trip to Hampstead.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher