By Gabrielle Raw-Rees
Green Door Theatre’s stripped back production ensures the audience is entirely focused on the high-quality acting. The play’s strength lies in its depiction of the complexity of human relationships and Director Musaab Salem keeps this at the core of his vision. The impact of the piece is harrowing, leaving many audience members in floods of tears, and the actors handle the material with sensitivity.
The impact of the piece is harrowing
The space in Chad’s Cassidy quad is used extremely effectively with all doors utilised to draw the audience’s eyes in multiple directions. The moment in which Anna Birakos’ character leans out of the window directly above the stage is particularly visually striking and adds to the naturalistic feel of the play. The set is simple but well-suited to the style of the piece although I felt that the table and chairs might have been positioned more efficiently. Their situation at the back of the stage means that characters occasionally turn their backs to the audience in order to communicate with characters who are seated. This was a particular shame in the romantic exchange between Betsy Bell’s Anna Deever and Oscar Brown’s Chris Keller. When Oscar bends down on one knee it completely blocks the audience’s view of Betsy and we are therefore uncertain of her reaction to his romantic advances until later in the scene.
The standout performance of the night comes from Cameron Ashplant who plays Joe Keller. From the outset his physicality is extremely strong, he fully inhabits his character. His tense posture and laboured walk mean that he is fully believable as a middle-aged man. I appreciated the small tics which Ashplant adopts in order to flesh out his character which include tucking his shirt in and drumming his fingers on the side of the chair. The character of Joe is short-tempered and brisk and Ashplant carries these qualities well. Each outburst appears logical to the audience and is never overdone. Ashplant juxtaposes these moments with masterful management of the more tender moments which are genuinely very touching.
Another strong performance comes from Oscar Brown who plays Joe’s son Chris. Brown gives a vocal performance with a lot of range and manages to convey genuine sincerity. Occasionally his facial expression does not match his vocal expression which can leave the audience feeling disconnected in certain moments. Some highlights of the piece are the interactions between father and son. A particularly effective image is that of the pair stood face to face; despite Brown’s taller height he manages to convey his respect for his father and slight intimidation while Ashplant’s confidence projects an image of a man with a much taller stature.
Amy Porter who plays Kate Keller is tasked with portraying a woman who is distraught from the very opening of the piece. Despite this, Porter manages to find moments of light and shade within the piece, even moments of frivolity when talking about potential love interests for George. This creates a well-rounded character that represents more than just the grieving mother. Porter also finds moments of strength in the text, even appearing as truly nasty on occasion towards the end of the play.
The actors commit to their characters for the entirety of the play and the audience stay emotionally connected throughout.
Mention must also go to Betsy Bell who plays Ann Deever with sensitivity and maturity as well as Lydia Lubey, playing Anna Birakos, whose sunny persona infects the stage with energy despite limited stage time. Griffin Shelton who plays George Deever also stands out, giving a performance which never wavers in intensity and portraying effectively the conflict within his character without straying into melodrama. Oscar Duffy’s characterisation of Frank Lubey needs some work as he exudes a nervous energy on stage. I also would have liked him to lower his eye line slightly, especially considering that the stage was raised. Despite these minor issues he manages to create an extremely likeable character.
Tech is limited to music in the interval and at the end. The choice of interval music: Gershwin’s Summertime appears a very well-thought out selection, with the uneasy harmony balanced against the pleasant lyrics. It is a shame that the music played during the harrowing final moments stopped and started a few times, this is an issue which I’m sure will be ironed out for the remaining performance. The only other sound was that of a car motor running which seemed a strange decision due to the fact that it was only used once despite characters leaving and arriving in cars numerous times during the play.
Director Musaab Salem must be commended for a sensitive and moving interpretation of Miller’s classic text. The actors commit to their characters for the entirety of the play and the audience stay emotionally connected throughout. I would recommend going to their final performance tonight but perhaps consider taking tissues.