Monday, 4 November 2013

Theatre review: Lee Harvey Oswald: A Far Mean Streak of Independence Brought on by Negleck

Judging by the amount of anniversaries being celebrated at the moment it was all kicking off fifty years ago. The National Theatre has just marked its half-century and Doctor Who is about to do the same. But the latter had an inauspicious start when its premiere episode was overshadowed by John F Kennedy's assassination. The events of Dallas have of course gone on to become the bread and butter of conspiracy theorists to this day, but with the assassin only outliving the President by 48 hours, doubts were cast over Lee Harvey Oswald's guilt from the start. By 1966 playwright Michael Hastings had attempted to shed light on the situation with Lee Harvey Oswald: A Far Mean Streak of Independence Brought on by Negleck. The subtitle is a quote from Oswald's own diaries, and gives a clue about the kind of chaotic personality we're going to be looking at.

Lee Harvey Oswald focuses on the Warren Commission set up to investigate the assassination, and particularly the questioning of Oswald's mother Marguerite (Hilary Tones) and his Russian wife Marina (Gemma Lawrence.) Taking as its basic text verbatim quotes from the interviews, the play then attempts to reconstruct the previous two years in Lee's (Adam Gillen) life.

Gillen makes an impressively volatile Oswald and Lawrence elicits sympathy as the wife who moved to a new country only to find her husband turn into a different person than she thought he was. The Commission's interviews present Marina as believing her husband to be guilty, but his mother gets the ball rolling on the conspiracies, believing him to have been a US Government agent whose trip to Russia was a spying mission rather than a flirtation with Communism.

But beyond this the play's attempts to find a narrative within the chaos get muddied. The scenes with an interviewer for the Commission (Patrick Poletti) talking to the two women are terribly dry, and as they take up a greater proportion of the play as it goes on it means it becomes increasingly dull. Alex Thorpe's production doesn't have much in the way of tonal variation to correct for this.

I imagine these Sunday-Tuesday shows at the Finborough don't get much in the way of rehearsal time, so I can't be too judgmental, but with Marguerite's theories being fairly muddled to begin with, the fact that Tones is still having visible trouble remembering her lines only confuses the issue more. All in all there's powerful aspects to the production but the material shows signs of why it hasn't been revived for 40 years, and the production doesn't do enough to hide them.

Lee Harvey Oswald: A Far Mean Streak of Independence Brought on by Negleck by Michael Hastings is booking in repertory until the 22nd of November at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

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