King's Head Theatre, London N1
Opened 8 November, 1998

Sometimes the principal difficulty in writing a review is moderating one's praise or condemnation of a production enough to convince readers that one is still thinking rationally; sometimes the problem is writing comprehensibly enough to give a useful account of a surreal, multiform or otherwise dense performance experience. But sometimes it is simply difficult to find anything much to say about a production at all. This does not mean it is bad quite the reverse, because then there would be criticisms to be made; it usually means that a show is solid, dependable, and will not disappoint but will not particularly excite or stimulate either. It is simply there.

Crimes Of The Heart, Beth Henley's first full-length play, won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1979. It tells of three grown-up Mississippi sisters: Lenny is homely and refuses to let herself find a man, Meg is a failed country singer and Babe, ditsy and kooky but not all-out crazy, has just shot and seriously wounded her boorish state senator husband. Granddaddy is dying in hospital, Momma hanged herself in the cellar years ago, neighbour Doc may be trying to rekindle his old passion with Meg (which ended years back when she left him amid a hurricane in Biloxi... that's what's playin' at the Roxy), and Babe's defence lawyer Barnette nurses a discreet crush upon her as well as a vendetta against her husband. The play is moderately funny, moderately engrossing and a little more than moderately sentimental; imagine a Sam Shepard play rewritten by Tammy Wynette... that sort of thing.

David Gilmore directs perfectly adequately; the cast contains no weak links, and Gabrielle Glaister as Babe shows particular skill in creating just a suspicion of endearing derangement viewers of the recently broadcast television adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Maximum Bob will recognise Babe as a spiritual sister of Bob's wife Leanne. This is an unexceptionable example of the kind of show which is too grown-up to be properly considered in the predominantly post-student light of the fringe in general, too modest to give itself the airs of a minor West End production manqué. It knows exactly what its niche is, and occupies it squarely; it is, almost studiedly, nothing special. Sometimes faint praise is not intended to damn, but just to praise faintly.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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