Studio Salford, Manchester
The latest offering from Ensemble 52, a group that now has partnerships with Studio Salford and with the new Fruit venue in Hull, is a domestic tale of the poet Philip Larkin and the various women in his life.
There is very little in the way of plot in Something Hidden, but what we do get is an unravelling of the various sexual entanglements of the great poet in his homes. The play opens in his university flat where Larkin is observing the convent girls through his telescope while his partner Monica is questioning his relationship with Maeve and whether he has slept with her yet and his mother, whom he refers to as 'Old Creature', keeps dropping hints about her late husband's Nazi sympathies.
After the interval, Larkin is now in a house he has been forced to buy after the university has sold the flats where he lived. Monica is drinking heavily, Maeve is shocked to find that 'giving herself to him' has not given her exclusive rights to him and even his efficient assistant at the university, Molly, is suspected of turning the triangle into a... square?
The play itself, despite the lack of plot, does provide an interesting insight into the characters and is written with skill and efficiency and with some great one-liners. The production, however, feels a little flat and lacking in any real energy; it is only in the scene where the characters are bickering drunkenly that the actors relax a bit and let the play flow more smoothly. Director Andrew Pearson has opted for those scene transitions where the characters interact in half-light rather than moving into position in blackout, which rarely works well. Perhaps it would work if it was stylised, but done in this half-hearted naturalist style it just holds up the action and shows characters saying things that they shouldn't say or seeing things that they shouldn't see.
Richard Vergette looks enough like Larkinespecially the picture of him used as the poster imageto convince and does a decent job of holding together the play which revolves very strongly around this one character, but he struggles a bit to make the lengthy speeches that his character almost always speaks in sound like natural dialogue rather then prepared, rehearsed monologues. Rachel Dale gets across well the strength and the bitterness of Monica but pulls some odd faces to be drunk or old. There are some nice performances in the smaller roles from Kathryn Worthington as naïve Maeve and from Jackie Rogers who doubles as Larkin's mother Eve with a strong Brummie accent and breathless, efficient Molly with subtle suggestions of a bit of a crush on Larkin.
Matt Moran's simple set works well, although it hardly seemed necessary to eject the audience from the auditorium in the interval just to move a couple of items of furniture around.
Although the production needs an injection of energy, Ensemble 52 once again shows that it is a company to watch as it has found another new play that is nicely-written with an interesting story to tell and plenty of humour and certainly worth a look.
Reviewer: David Chadderton