The studio theatre attached to Chichester Festival Theatre has had an outstanding summer. Apart from the excellent Caroline or Change, mentioned in an earlier post, there have been two other outstanding productions.
The first was a new play written by Deborah Bruce and directed by Jeremy Herrin. The House They Grew Up In is a play that keeps you guessing and constantly defeats your expectations. As the situation and history of brother and sister, Peppy and Daniel (Samantha Spiro and Daniel Ryan, both brilliant) are slowly revealed and we are allowed to explore their claustrophobic world, outside forces, in the shape of a neighbour’s son, the police and social services are breaking into this world. Will the consequences be catastrophic ? The play is gripping throughout. My only criticism would be of the set design, which, although intricate and evocative, interfered unnecessarily with sight lines for some members of the audience.
The Stepmother by Githa Dowerby was the third superb show of the summer at the Minerva. Given one performance in a private club in 1924 and apparently not staged again until 2008, this play has all the power of the same author’s slightly better known work, Rutherford and Son. While the position of women in society, the laws of divorce and the class system have changed radically since 1924, the play, strangely, seems to have plenty to say to a modern audience. Eustace Gaydon, the villain of the piece, seems to be the spiritual ancestor of all those financiers responsible for the recent banking crisis who could not see that they had done anything wrong. Will Keen’s performance in this role was so captivating that, at several points, I felt like walking onto the stage to punch him on the nose.
While productions at the main theatre at Chichester frequently transfer to London, it seems to happen less often with Minerva shows. This is a great shame. These three shows deserve a wider audience.