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Review: Who'd have thought Eugene O'Neill could be charming and funny - Ah, Wilderness! Young Vic

Ah_Wilderness_326x326The last time I saw Dominic Rowan stumbling on sand was in the Donmar's production of Berenice. This time in Ah, Wilderness! at the Young Vic his character Sid not only has a sandy stage to contend with but also a bit of a drink problem which makes him unsteady on his feet.

Sid drinks to hide the hurt of rejection from Lily (Susannah Wise); Lily turns down his marriage proposals because he drinks and gambles. It's a vicious circle. But Sid and Lily's is a secondary love story to that of Richard's (George MacKay).

Eugene O'Neill's play is set in the early 1900's Richard is Lily's 16-year-old nephew and Ah, Wilderness! is his coming of age story. He's intelligent and alarms his mother (Janie Dee) by reading Oscar Wilde, Ibsen and Strindberg which she deems unsuitable and inappropriate. He rebels in a bookish way quoting lines of poetry and literature but most importantly he is in the throws of his first love with a girl called Muriel.

The action is set over the course of a sunny Independence weekend by the sea where the family is gathered for celebrations. Richard's mother (Janie Dee) is trying to organise the July 4th dinner, encourage her husband Nat (Martin Marquez) and Sid not to get too drunk and her youngest son is running around setting off fire crackers. And then there is Muriel's father who is on the war path having found Richard's love letters to his daughter.

Ah, Wilderness! is described as a prequel to A Long Day's Journey Into The Night but this is a wholly different beast tonally. It has a slight bitter sweet edge but it is charming and funny.

George MacKay is an endearing Richard as he gropes the path towards adulthood navigating unchartered emotions, passions and relationships. He swings brilliantly from the earnestness of youth, to indignant and injured. He's also a dab hand with the harmonica.

Dominic Rowan is a brilliant drunk, stumbling along the fine line between ridicule and empathy.

As with Berenice there were one or two slips on the sand but aside from a final, rather dazzling, staging effect, which I won't spoil, I'm not entirely sure it was necessary. The production is memorable enough without it*.

Overall this production is a breath of fresh air it has a beautiful bitter sweetness and plenty of amusement and chuckles. I've been following George MacKay's screen career for a few years now and based on his performance in this I really hope to see him on the stage again soon.

Ah, Wilderness! runs at the Young Vic until 23 May and is a lovely evening at the theatre.

* I did have the dubious pleasure of having sand kicked in my face, accidentally, as Richard runs circles in the sand. The dangers of the front row but the plus side was having a piece of Richard's torn love letter land at my feet which I've kept as a memento.


George MacKay starred in Pride with Mr W friend and acting buddy Andrew Scott.