Ah, Wilderness! Young Vic – Not a Coming of Age Tragedy by Eugene O’neil

3.5 hearts

As a definite groupie of Eugene O’Neil, I was very much looking forward to the one and only humorous work written by the great American playwright and found that while I did enjoy the evening, I would most definitely not call this a comedy as it was a little short of laughs.

Ah, Wilderness! - Janie Dee

Ah, Wilderness! – Janie Dee

Set in a small town on the Connecticut shore on the 4th of July 1906, the play depicts family life at the turn of the century and before either World Wars. The play revolves around Nat, the owner of the local newspaper, Essie, his wife, their children and close family. Their son, Richard is in love with Muriel but utterly devastated when he learns that she no longer loves him. It’s a play about family, teenage love (with those incredible highs and terrible lows) and ruined family celebrations. The play still has some of O’Neil’s trade mark characters like Lily the spinster, who loves a man more in love with the bottle and Belle, the kind-hearted prostitute, but there is fundamentally little plot. It is more about young love, growing pains and sitting on the beach looking at the moon.

The brilliant Natalie Abrahami directs a great ensemble cast and has thankfully cut some of the play’s length (and characters) and brought it down to two hours with no interval. She has also injected O’Neil himself into the play in an ingenious silent role which confused my theatre companion but which I found charming, perhaps because I knew what O’Neil looked like from photographs.

I know that some will object to my next statement but I will take issue with a black actor playing a brother in a 1906 white Connecticut family. It’s just confusing and does not add to the play.  That said, Ashley Zhangazha is an excellent actor and I cannot fault his performance.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the set designed by Dick Bird is quite extraordinary. When I walked in, I thought I was in for a Happy Days take two which I wouldn’t have minded at all, as I loved the play, the set and Juliet Stevenson (see my review in this blog) but this set was even more ingenious. That being said, I’m not sure it added that much to the play but it does make for some amusing set changes and a lovely last scene. All in all, this is a play to warm your heart about youth and remind everyone in attendance of what it was like to love so much that you wanted to die if you could not be with that one person. Do you remember?

Anna Christie, Donmar Warehouse – A masterful and gripping rendition of a classic

5 hearts

In Anna Christie, Eugene O’Neil drew on his own experience as a seaman prior to embarking on his journey as a playwright.  The play attempts a realistic look at the life of the poor immigrants in early 20th century east coast America.  Anna Christie (Ruth Wilson) a twenty-year-old woman arrives in New York from Minnesota to be reunited with her seaman father (David Hayman).  We soon discover that Anna is not the ingénue her father has imagined her to be and when a group of shipwrecked seamen are rescued after five days at sea, one man, Mat Burke (Jude Law) brings a storm into this damaged family’s life.  Falling instantly in love with Anna, Mat forces the young woman to reveal more of her past than she wishes fearing rejection from both men.

Jude Law as Mat Burke and Ruth Wilson as Anna Christopherson.  Courtesy of Donmar Warehouse

Jude Law as Mat Burke and Ruth Wilson as Anna Christopherson. Courtesy of Donmar Warehouse

The Director, Rob Ashford, who is better known for his choreography work, has created a world were an actual storm delivers Law onto the stage dripping wet and half naked mirroring the action on the stage beautifully.  The play could have been written with Law in mind such is his remarkable performance.  Law’s Burke, prances around the deck, showing off his chiselled physique, in an erotically charged role which calls on his ability to show powerful emotions and boyhood needs.  Wilson gives a superb performance as the fallen yet independent and strong heroine, and Hayman, though looking nothing like a Swede, is convincing as the weary seaman and guilty father.  O’Neil’s interest in showing the influence of a distinctive European heritage on the speech and thoughts of early migrants is effective in providing a strong sense of time and place. What could be simply melodramatic is rendered forcefully by a set pared down to bare essentials but a hydraulically swaying stage reminiscent of the sea and the strength of the acting.