AWAKE AND SING!
Theatre, London N1
Opened 6 September, 2007
Michael Attenborough has directed an admirable production of a play,
written from within the American Left of the period, which centres on
an ethnic family during the Great Depression. We followed the conflicts
between material concerns and ideology, between feelings and individual
duty, between principle and pragmatism; we watched the children take
issue with an ultimately ineffectual father and, in particular, the
toll taken by all these pressures on the mother who glues the extended
family together. But enough about the black Chicago family in Big White Fog, which opened at the
Almeida in May; it's time to consider the Bergers from the Bronx in
Clifford Odets' Awake And Sing!,
who are... oh, they're exactly the same except with less melanin.
This is barely an exaggeration. In each case, the son of the family
ultimately finds solace in socialist idealism; in each case, the
daughter's life is complicated by an early sexual indiscretion and she
has to choose between financial consolation and personal honour; in
each case, a slightly too-slick uncle and a plain-speaking grandparent
add to the mix. Both tenement-apartment sets even have a dining area
stage left with a swing door leading off to the kitchen.
In such circumstances, I'm afraid it matters little that a clutch of
strong performances are on show here: Nigel Lindsay as Moe, the
distastefully brash but sincere and persistent suitor of daughter
Hennie; John Lloyd Fillingham as Sam, the insecure nebbish that she in
fact married to legitimise the child she was carrying; John Rogan, now
wheelchair-bound but as masterly an actor as ever, conveying by a still
half-smile grandpa Jacob's wry dissent from the line being peddled.
And, of course, Stockard Channing as matriarch Bessie, who even as her
tyrannical hypocrisies unravel is unable to comprehend that she is
doing anything but the best for her family. Such exposure to Odets is
welcome; he is too seldom given British stage revivals (this was my
first encounter with one of his plays in performance). Attenborough's
project to expand the social and political range of the fare offered to
the Almeida's notoriously Islington-trendy clientele is likewise noble.
But, for those of us who have seen it all at this address only a few
months ago, it can't help but feel rather stale and pointless.
Written for the Financial
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights
Return to index of
for the year 2007
Return to master
Return to main theatre
Return to Shutters