The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

THE YEAR OF MAG­I­CAL THINK­ING Lyt­tel­ton, Na­tional Theatre, Lon­don SE1

THE IN­GRE­DI­ENTS prom­ise some­thing un­for­get­table. An ex­tra­or­di­nary mem­oir about the na­ture of grief, writ­ten and adapted for the stage by one of Amer­ica’s great prose writ­ers, di­rected by one of Bri­tain’s great­est play­wrights, and per­formed by one of the coun­try’s finest ac­tresses.

Yet al­though The Year of Mag­i­cal Think­ing, by the jour­nal­ist Joan Did­ion, di­rected by David Hare and star­ring Vanessa Red­grave, was an ac­claimed sell-out when it ap­peared on Broad­way last year, here in Lon­don it ap­pears to be much less than the sum of its parts.

Did­ion’s best­selling book about the sud­den death of her hus­band, the writer John Gre­gory Dunne, be­came a mus­tread in Amer­ica, a com­forter for those who have lost the love of their life, and a warn­ing for those who have yet to ex­pe­ri­ence that pain. As Did­ion says: “This is go­ing to hap­pen. The de­tails will be dif­fer­ent, but it will hap­pen to you.”

In Did­ion’s case the de­tails are shock­ingly sim­ple. She and her hus­band were just about to have din­ner in their New York apart­ment, when John died of a heart at­tack. One mo­ment he was talk­ing, the next he wasn’t.

Then, 18 months later, Did­ion’s daugh­ter Quin­tana died af­ter a long ill­ness. The book was al­ready out when that hap­pened, so Did­ion up­dated her mono­logue ver­sion to in­clude her daugh­ter’s death.

Both book and play are grip­ping pieces of work. Their poignant power lies in the au­thor turn­ing on her­self the foren­sic, dis­pas­sion­ate gaze with which she spent a ca­reer re­port­ing the lives of oth­ers. It is a lit­tle like watch­ing a pathol­o­gist carry out her own au­topsy.

The mag­i­cal think­ing of the ti­tle is an an­thro­po­log­i­cal term used by Did­ion to de­scribe the flawed logic of the griev­ing mind, which is con­vinced that the dead, if cer­tain rit­u­als are ob­served, will re­turn, and that the dy­ing, if cer­tain thoughts are avoided, will live.

For most of Hare’s un­in­ter­rupted 90minute pro­duc­tion, Red­grave sits in a wooden chair, her grey out­fit match­ing Bob Crowley’s min­i­mal­ist set — a se­ries of grey-washed can­vases that dra­mat­i­cally fall away at in­ter­vals.

But all this re­straint is un­der­mined by Red­grave’s sur­pris­ing flam­boy­ance, with sud­den ges­tic­u­la­tions and flour­ishes. The sense here is one of text serv­ing ac­tress rather than the other way round. (Tel: 020 7452 3000)

SMALL CHANGE Don­mar Ware­house, Lon­don WC2

FOURCHAIRS and four ac­tors are the main in­gre­di­ents in Peter Gill’s beau­ti­fully acted re­vival of his own 1976 play. Gill’s pro­tag­o­nists are two work­ing­class Cardiff boys (Matt Ryan and Luke Evans) and their moth­ers (Sue John­ston and Lind­say Coul­son).

The pic­ture painted is one of a post­war com­mu­nity where fa­thers are ab­sent and moth­ers live in un­ful­filled ter­race-housed lone­li­ness with their chil­dren.

Coul­son’s Mrs Driscol con­fesses the guilt she feels for lov­ing her abu­sive hus­band but not her chil­dren. John­ston’s stoic Mrs Harte is her emo­tion­ally re­pressed neigh­bour and con­fi­dant.

But the defin­ing re­la­tion­ship in Gill’s play is be­tween the two sons. Matt Ryan’s Ger­ard is the sen­si­tive, self analysing foil to Luke Evans’s down-to-earth tough-nut Vin­cent. Each tells his ver­sion of the re­la­tion­ship from an adult point of view. And it is in the telling that Gill’s lyri­cal and po­etic play makes its mark.

The ad­vance­ment from boy­hood through ado­les­cence is sug­gested by Gill’s ac­tors with a re­mark­able flu­id­ity. Teenage bore­dom is por­trayed phys­i­cally with a petu­lant flounce, and ad­vanc­ing ma­tu­rity by their in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated lan­guage.

The story that emerges be­tween the two boys is one of un­re­quited love, or at least of two dif­fer­ent kinds of love. But while Gill’s pro­duc­tion is hugely im­pres­sive and boasts four quite beau­ti­ful per­for­mances, it is an evening al­most de­void of ten­sion. ( Tel: 0870 060 6624)

“I’VE BE­COME a death bore,” laments wi­d­ower Judge Christo­pher Os­good in Rose­mary Fried­man’s play. Poor Os­good (Gra­ham Seed) is left to grap­ple with the lonely re­al­ity of life with­out his dear de­parted wife. Well, not that de­parted. Her ashes and urn take pride of place on the writ­ing bureau in his liv­ing room.

And not that lonely ei­ther, for as well as be­ing cheered up by psy­chi­a­trist neigh­bour Mar­cus (Mal­colm James), Os­good is courted by three women. There is his in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lat­ing ten­ant, Sally (Gráinne Gil­lis), Lu­cille (Mag­gie Hal­li­nan), who be­lieves the way to man’s heart is through his stom­ach, and Jo (So­nia Sav­ille), a fel­low judge who at­tempts to se­duce him into mar­riage with in­vi­ta­tions to her coun­try es­tate — and by tak­ing her clothes off.

Fried­man writes sen­si­tively about grief, but clum­sily when it comes to de­riv­ing com­edy from dark­ness. Set pieces rely on that hoary old de­vice — char­ac­ters walk­ing into Os­good’s liv­ing room unan­nounced. So di­rec­tor Ni­non Jerome strug­gles to im­pose cred­i­bil­ity. ( Tel: 0870 033 2733)

AN EL­I­GI­BLE MAN New End Theatre, Lon­don NW3


Vanessa Red­grave is in­ap­pro­pri­ately flam­boy­ant in Joan Did­ion’s mem­oir of grief, The Year of Mag­i­cal Think­ing

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