Minerva Studio / Festival Theatre, Chichester
Opened 13 September, 2006
**** / ***

Jonathan Church ends his first season at Chichester's helm with one play which shocks because its worldview is so alien, and another which fails to shock because its is so familiar.

Adaptor Mike Poulton has produced an eminently playable, often sardonic version of August Strindberg's The Father (1887), but surely he is wildly over-charitable when he claims that Strindberg's view of the marital battlefield is anything approaching impartial. Military officer and mineralogist Adolf is both victim and perpetrator of domestic atrocities, to be sure, but his wife Laura is utterly without a glimmer of redemption: she says she will do anything to gain control of the family, and she does. For all Teresa Banham's efforts Laura remains pure, duplicitous demon. Even Adolf's aged, well-meaning Nanny eventually wreaks upon him what he and Laura have each declared all women want: to emasculate man, to reduce him to a child in her charge. It is a loathsomely misogynistic play, but none the less valuable viewing, especially in Angus Jackson's relatively measured production, with Jasper Britton on top form as Adolf. They even manage to get a number of laughs before the unnerving descent into a gibbering, straitjacketed hell of an ending.

In contrast, David Hare and Howard Brenton's "Fleet Street comedy" Pravda is barely 20 years old, and the most alien thing about it now is its title, alluding to an era when we thought we knew who the enemy was and how to spot propaganda. For the rest, we may no longer have tabloid bingo or quite such a ubiquitous William Rees-Mogg (the satire's targets are often this specific), but the rest of this portrait of prostituted news media has proven so prophetic that many of the events shown now seem downright banal. We laugh easily at Roger Allam's rendition of a South African cartoon version of Rupert Murdoch as he integrates analogues of the Sun and The Times into a single money- and power-spinning operation, but the only shock about Church's production is how unshocking the play now is. When the season's programme was announced, this looked like one of the more audacious choices; in performance, it is revealed as one of the safer ones. Church has run an astute season; it is to be hoped that it has been sufficient to banish the prospect that 2007 might be Chichester's final fling.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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