In a restaurant, in a park, in the conjugal bed, in a maternity hospital, at a birthday party – alone, in twos or threes, or all together – people talk. They talk about marriages, affairs (their own or those of TV soap stars), cosmetic surgery, their futures, hopes and dreams, what music they should put on the stereo. Nothing ever quite begins or ends. Luisa Costa Gomes' Never Nothing From No One is described by the Portuguese author as "a collection of clichés... a general view of the 'common sense' of an era... fragments of situations." Through six scenes, with – in Eduardo Barreto's production – a cast of five female and three male actors, it offers a series of snapshots of the everyday. It opens with a monologue of the story of Job, but this is a misleading herald of what is to follow, in which the sorest tribulations are being insulted by a boor at the next table or deciding whether or not to take one's partner when relocating to Brussels.
Requiem Productions put on a typically thoughtful and accomplished show (the company is, in effect, the "government in exile" of Greenwich's endangered Prince studio theatre), but an audience must bring its own resonance to the piece. Gomes's play apparently made a considerable impression on a Lisbon still finding its social and cultural feet in the post-dictatorship era, particularly for the freedom of speech and expression it granted its female characters simply to be, in a natural register. However, among a pitifully sparse audience of perhaps twenty people in Marylebone's Cockpit, the sense of such a moment is equally unfortunately absent.
We can appreciate the care and precision of Barreto and his cast; we can note the similarities between the characters played in different scenes by a given actor (the gravitas of Michael Billington, the patrician edginess of Valerie Bradell, the diffident self-effacement of Emma D'Inverno) and wonder to what extent they are supposed to be the same people or merely similar types; we can try to figure out whether the figure of Anita has any real significance beyond that of an Everywoman who simply happens to walk through each scene, linking it to the others... but there is little or no greater impact. An admirable production, then, and one which pays full respect to a play that simply, sadly, seems not to have travelled well.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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