**** Thirty years on it still shocks and provokes
Peter Nichols' 1967 play about living with a severely mentally handicapped child is still challenging in both its style and content.
Nichols combines a variety of dramatic techniques from the word go, breaking down the fourth wall as Bri (Clive Owen) enters through the auditorium to address us as an unruly school class and allowing him and every other character on stage to address us directly at various points. His famous brashness, too, shows itself in remarks which are seldom diplomatic and often in highly dubious taste, but always ring true, as Bri resorts to a desperate kind of humour to see himself through both the direct stresses of bringing up his young daughter Joe and the indirect strains this places upon his and Sheila's marriage.
Owen and Hamilton (despite the latter being a few years too young for her role) each hit the spot of their respective characters' strategies of coping with the situation, and Prunella Scales makes a spot-on supporting appearance as Bri's smothering mother. Thirty years on, neither medical nor social approaches to such handicaps have changed that much; we still need to be coached in understanding and to have our easy assumptions shaken up, and Nichols' play continues to do both those jobs.
Written for divento.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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