Visiting Mr Green
Hope Theatrical Productions
Customs House, South Shields
Visiting Mr Green premiered in 1996 and has since had 300 productions around the world, picking up seven awards and three nominations from New York to Uruguay to Israel. It's hardy surprising because it pushes so many buttons: a growing relationship between two very different and contrasting characters, one old and one young; the theme of overcoming intolerance by getting to know people better; a happy ending. Yes, it is somewhat sentimental but that isn't necessarily a fault, primarily because it is so well-written.
The story is simple: American Express rising executive Ross Gardiner (Collin Baxter) almost runs down 86 year old Mr Green (G. Philip Hope), is prosecuted for reckless driving and has to visit and help him weekly for six months as his community service sentence. There is initial mutual incomprehension but a bond grows between them as they get to know each other better and discover they share the heritage of being Jewish. The revelation that Ross is gay throws a spanner in the works but learning to overcome the barrier this throws up enables Mr Green to lose his prejudices and at last to forgive his daughter, rejected by him for many years because she married a non-Jew.
It is actually quite predictable but Visiting Mr Green is not about surprising revelations - there are no unexpected plot twists and turns - but is rather a study of the way in which the two so different people are able not only to lose their preconceived notions of what each other is but also to build up mutual trust and liking.
The play consists of a series of scenes which follow the same pattern, a structural idea which must be handled with care if momentum and the slow build-up of tension are not to be lost. Unfortunately this production does itself no favours by having long gaps, covered by music, between scenes, not for set changes (for they are minor and efficiently dealt with by the one-person crew) but for costume changes. These pauses became increasingly tedious as the play progressed and the actors had to recapture the audience's focus after each one. And it really wasn't necessary for we will quite happily accept minor changes of costume as indicating the passage of time. Only in two scenes were these changes really needed.
It also led to a dynamic which was rather flat. It is, of course, a very gentle piece but pace and a fairly level intensity were definitely an issue.
It has to be said, though, that the production did have impact and the audience went away well satisfied. However with fewer and shorter pauses, together with a little more emotional intensity, the production would have been much more effective.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan