Review: Simon Stephens' Port at the National Theatre
Simon Stephens has quietly become a playwright whose work either makes it onto my favourites list or, and this is an achievement when you see more than a 100 plays a year, stand out.
His adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time was the best thing I saw last year and A Doll's House at the Young Vic was certainly memorable (positively for me but not so for others), equally I Am The Wind was a favourite that divided and I just loved The Trial of Ubu at the Hampstead Theatre.
Port premiered in 2002 at the Royal Exchange in Manchester and is set in his home town of Stockport. It follows the life of the bright and interested Racheal (Kate O'Flynn) from the age of 11, when she and six-year-old brother Billy (Mike Noble) are abandoned by their mother (Liz White).
Over the next 13 years we see Racheal grow up and try to make her way in the world against a back drop of an estranged father, abusive husband and borstal regular brother.
The success of Port depends so much on the performances. It's eight scenes are predominately conversation, often two-handers, rather than action-led and it's a test of any actor to go from child to adult but O'Flynn and Noble in the main are convincing. If I was going to quibble I'd have preferred O'Flynn to become a little less animated in her movements the older she got but this may, in part, be due to the size of the space in which she has to perform. More on that in a moment.
Hers is a battle of love and hatred for her place of birth. She longs for the countryside beyond the town, for different places, better places. She leaves, escapes but returns a king of comfort in the familiarity.
As a 24-year-old there is something philosophical in her assessment of life that is beyond her years. The acknowledgement of mistakes and sense of loss from her mother's disappearance is at once poignant and tragic.
If there is a problem with Port it is that some of the scenes over-stay their welcome. I'd have liked to have seen it at the Royal Exchange which is a much smaller space and in the round. The National Theatre's Lyttelton stage is warehouse-like in comparison and while you can admire the stage wizardry of cars and sets rising up through the floor, the performances are often dwarfed.
Perhaps a smaller intimate performance space would have allowed for slightly smaller and more nuanced performances that the dialogue calls for. That isn't to say that the performances aren't good because they are, I am just being a little nit-picky.
Overall it's a generally engaging and interesting piece that feels fresh and contemporary despite being a decade old.
Port runs in rep at the Lyttelton Theatre until March 24 and you can read Poly's eloquent thoughts on her blog and Ought To Be Clowns here
There is a Katie Mitchell connection with this one. Firstly Simon Stephen's Trial of Ubu was directed by Mitchell and Liz White appeared in Woman Killed With Kindness also directed by Mitchell who in turn directed Mr W in ...some trace of her.
Recently seen and reviewed:
Quartermaine's Terms at the Wyndhams
Di and Viv and Rose at Hampstead Theatre