REVIEW: Distance, Park Theatre ✭✭✭

Julian Eaves reviews Simon Pittman’s production of Alex McSweeney’s play Distance now playing at the Park Theatre.

Distance review Park Theatre
Adam Burton in Distance. Photo: Richard Davenport

Park Theatre 90,
7th September 2018
3 Stars
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This is a super-sleek production by Simon Pittman, handsomely designed by Bethany Wells and lit with equal care and style by Dan Saggars.  The lovely soundscape is provided by Alexandra Faye Braithewaite and Ian William Galloway furnishes the ever-useful video projection at the centre of our vision.  There is also an impressively physical central performance in the role of the separated and increasingly suicidal cynical academic, Steve, Adam Burton, who creates a kind of moving poetry of the stage in his constantly mutating performance (and he is almost never actually off-stage throughout the 90 uninterrupted minutes of the drama).  These are delights and worth your investigation and admiration.
Distance Park Theatre
Adam Burton and Abdul Salis in Distance. Photo: Richard Davenport

As for the text, I was less convinced.  The author, Alex McSweeney, seems to be writing in the long and bitter and depressing tradition of Buecher, Kaiser and – for his ueber-naturalistic chops – Sarah Kane.  He also seems saturated with the toxic misogyny of Frank Wedekind (et al); for instance, he creates in the part of the jilting spouse (and mother of their child) Sonja, a shallow, barely more than one-dimensional portrait of icy loathing; this actress Lindsay Fraser struggles heroically to make into an actual human being, but she has got her work cut out for her.  Why does she suddenly start behaving so unreasonably?  That question was forever in the forefront of my mind, and nothing she, nor Adam Burton, nor anyone else on stage could do really seemed to throw any light on illuminating an answer.

Distance Park Theatre
Adam Burton in Distance. Photo: Richard Davenport

This is a shame because so many other good things happen in the intense play.  Doreene Blackstock offers us three beautifully contrasting roles of characters passing by the inexorably disintegrating Steve, unable to help.  Abdul Salis works a small miracle with his sketchily created part of the ‘also ran’ in academic matters.  And Richard Corgan is a finely almost supernatural ‘chorus’, appearing to comment and sing between the nihilistic and misanthropic rants.  Most of all, though, I loved the way the set – a space ‘caught on a train – was made fluid and malleable, sliding in and out of our view, pulled and pushed this way and that by the cast in a splendidly expressionistic manner.  But I still kept thinking that the whole thing would be much more convincing on television: playing with focus, depth, perspective, and zooming right into people’s faces to give us in the montage of visual images a vocabulary that would articulate more than the script alone is as yet able to convey to the audience.

Distance Park Theatre London
Doreene Blackstock and Adam Burton in Distance. Photo: Richard Davenport

I came away from it feeling that I had heard more about Faulkner and his point of view than I had of the people in this play.  I will remember and treasure Burton’s extraordinary gestures and stances: I only wish he had had a few more words to pin down what it was he was going through, and then maybe I could have felt a bit closer to him.  As it is, I had to look on and wonder, just wonder, at what on earth had really provoked his tragedy in such elegant and perfectly controlled surroundings.

Until 29 September 2018


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