Sunday, 23 June 2013

Theatre review: Early Days

To commemorate the 80th birthday of writer David Storey, a rather on-the-nose choice of revival in the Finborough's Sunday-Tuesday slot, as his play Early Days deals with extreme old age. A rather odd little character piece, it looks at the last days of Kitchen (Simon Molloy,) a notable post-War politician whose career never reached the peak it was expected to thanks to, as he frequently laments, "one 25-minute speech and a fifteen-second interview." Now he's seriously ill - perhaps much more so than he even realises, with only a few months left to live - and spends much of his time in the garden of his daughter Mathilda (Abigail Bond) and her wealthy business leader husband Benson (Andrew McDonald.) Here he reflects on past glories, his childhood, and his time with his dead wife, to anyone who'll listen.

But what initially seems quite a likeable, confused old man may have a darker side, as we find out he's not allowed alone with women any more, has been leaving abusive messages on Benson's answerphone, and his apparently loving granddaughter Gloria (Hannah Taylor Gordon) seems to view his party's ideologies with some distaste. Is this the real Kitchen, or what his illness has turned him into?


And in Tim Newns's atmospheric but odd production, I'm no closer to knowing, but perhaps that's the point - a lament not just on the physical and mental decay of old age but also the way it rewrites the past until it's not clear who the person ever was. With his career never having got him as far as the Prime Ministerial job he was thought to be destined for, the question isn't so much what Kitchen's legacy will be but whether there'll be any legacy at all. He's trying to put together his memoirs with Mathilda's help, but has trouble remembering the political career he's meant to be documenting. And would anyone even want to read them if he managed it?


The dreamy, memory-soaked mood is very much established by the sepia-tinted tone the combination of Andy Robinson's 1970s costume designs and William Ingham's lighting throw on the production. There's undoubtedly something very sad in the play's depiction of a great man lost to old age (his family's moments of genuine affection in amongst the distaste for his present behaviour suggesting this isn't who he always was.) But off-kilter without really spinning off into the surreal, a character piece that leaves you pretty much in the dark about the true character, I found Early Days a frustrating watch.

Early Days by David Storey is booking in repertory until the 2nd of July at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes straight through.

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