Constellations, another change of pace from playwright Nick Payne to something a lot more measured and naturalistic. In Lay Down Your Cross, Will Fricker's set takes us to the small flat where Tony (Andy de la Tour) lives on his own following his divorce - Emma Laxton's detailed sound design helps create a very realistic, lived-in environment. It's the night before his son Adam's funeral and Tony is waiting for daughter Dawn (Lucy Phelps) to arrive from Australia, where she's been living for the last couple of years. The play takes place over a little over 24 hours during which we also meet Tony's drunken ex-wife Grace (Susan Wooldridge) and Adam's girlfriend Raph (Angela Terence.) As the play goes on, Dawn discovers that her soldier brother didn't die in action like she originally thought.
Payne's examination of guilt, grief and attempts to apportion blame is sensitively and believably written and holds the attention without outstaying its welcome. Clare Lizzimore's production is suitably understated with four strong performances - Terence has a relatively small role but is hugely moving as she reads a note Adam left her and realises she's not to blame for his death. Lay Down Your Cross does what it sets out to do but after a while I couldn't help feeling it wasn't covering any new ground. The most interesting direction it takes is in looking at Tony's impossible choices with regards to his children's decisions - wanting to be supportive but not necessarily agreeing with what they do - and I wished we'd had more of this than simply the subjects of grief and the less "heroic" side of the military, which are the main themes. I think this struck me especially as the Hampstead Downstairs season is always promoted as a safe place for creatives to experiment. Lay Down Your Cross is quietly moving, well-written and performed, but experimental, original or daring it is not.
Lay Down Your Cross by Nick Payne is booking until the 24th of March at Hampstead Theatre's Michael Frayn Space.
Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes straight through.