Review One by Amy Pearson
The initial stereotype of the Dartmoor moors would be hills, stone fences, sheep and rain. A pleasant and idyllic lifestyle. But upon being bombarded with deafening aeroplane sound effects, which made the floor rattle, this impression was completely annihilated.
Such intensity exuded from the rest of the play. Tension amongst the three East End gangsters, Wally, Mr. West , Patsy , and their notorious lifestyles intrudes the secluded moors, with events reaching a nail- biting climax. This intensity was especially prevalent in Jez Butterworth’s script, with constant questioning and repetition; the relay of dialogue helped to keep us on our toes. We were certainly made to feel the unease that the characters felt. The atmosphere was that of suspense and conflict with a lack of closure. The play ends how it began, with no clear resolution.
This sense of suspense was also portrayed through the lack of scene change. All action takes place in a dilapidated farm house, which was realised on stage. There was a stone wall, beams on the ceiling and even a working fire place! This season, the New Theatre have gone to new lengths, I thought the gravel path from the Importance of Being Earnest last Season, would be unbeatable, but they managed it!
Lighting was kept to a bare minimum, with the firelight taking precedence to help create atmosphere. Darkness was also used effectively, this being particularly noticeable at the beginning. Such uncertainty kept the audience gripped from the offset. We were quite literally in the dark.
The characters were brilliantly brought to life, and all actors need to be congratulated because it’s the start of the season, so they haven’t had long. The audience were able to really connect with the characters. This play depended on a division between the East End gangsters and the local West Country characters- and the accents were captured perfectly to ensure this. Only a five part cast, ‘The Wintlerling’ was one of the sparser plays in this respect. But all the characters ‘filled’ the space, and perhaps the introduction of any new characters would be TOO intense. The character of Draycott in particular offered the audience some relief though the dark humour.
This play is certainly a must – see. Due to the New Season, you might not even have been aware that things were up and running again, but now you know, I’m sure the booking office will be overwhelmed. If ‘The Winterling’ is a good indication of things to come, this New Theatre Season is going to surpass the last! If that’s possible.
Review Two by Mav Reynolds
This week, in which falls the opening of the New Theatre’s first season of the decade, has heralded a return of the bitter north-easterly winds blasting spring, whose nimble toes have danced but momentarily across the midlands, back towards the Irish sea. Through the icy air I approached the theatre with anticipation welling up inside me, past the shivering smokers I entered to find a smaller turnout than I had expected. It is a shame because The Winterling will be a hard play to follow. Catlin and Herbert have created a dark, dank, crumbling farmhouse, peopled by a cast that could have been plucked from one of the good Guy Ritchie films. The set is as concise as the language is verbose, opening up a beautifully realised dialogue between the two.
The play explores the relationship of Len West (Adam Wood) a former gangster to his past, represented by Patsy (Ollie Silver) and Wally (Douggie McMeekin) and to his present in the form of Draycott (David Maggs) and Lou (Jenni Herzberg). Wally arrives having trudged into the wilderness to find his old friend altered, philosophical, and yet engaging still able despite his exile to command and to manipulate. It is a play that brings to the fore the themes of possession and power, and reflects on the way people control spaces both physically and verbally.
The dynamics between the actors reach some great heights, particularly the scenes between Wood and Silver who manage a subtle exchange of mannerism and intonation, drawing out elements of the performance that lie dormant until then, and aligning the two characters in their shared plight. Maggs is fantastic as the insane tramp Draycott, whose tirades cannot fail to elicit awkward laughter. It is a shame however that we never see the relationship between Draycott and Lou, which to a large degree renders both characters one dimensional. They seem to become merely a manifestation of the warped family that West has established on Dartmoor, underpinned by the missing dog Dolly. This missing dog forms the basis for the cyclical frame which opens and closes the play, and highlights the emotional disruption which West undergoes.
Moments of brilliance are not rare, indeed they rend apart the tapestry of dramatization bathing the audience in the glow of artistic inspiration (Insert pleonastic counterpoint). There are however several rough edges. The scene between Herzberg and Wood created an unfortunate lull in the centre of this piece. The importance of the dog and the reciprocal desperation felt by the two characters should establish the importance of their relationship. But it lacked emotional layering and thus poignancy. Similarly there are parts of the character dynamics between the three Londoners that feel unpolished. It was sometimes hard to identify the process behind the power struggle, largely due to the similarities in strategy utilised by the three actors.
These however are small blemishes on what is a fantastic example of the dramatic craft. If anything they feel like the parts that have been under-rehearsed which is understandable with so little time. It would have been interesting to see what could have been done with four weeks instead of two.
The Winterling is a play that leaves one feeling enthused about language and paradoxically, for a play with little levity, about life. Plunged into the underbelly of humanity we cannot help but feel an overwhelming sense of hope in the rejection of cruelty, and the refusal to be interpolated despite the prospect of unalterable loneliness and perpetual destitution.
I cannot recommend this piece highly enough. I returned to the chill atop Portland hill feeling the slow tingle upon my neck. The sensation of the imminent loss of feeling in my fingers, and the somnambulistic pleasure of reflection conducted my walk home.
Review Three by Evelyn Perry
The Winterling is a complex piece. This rather simple insight is also the most compelling part of the New Theatre’s first full production of this term. The script is tight and in many ways unfulfilling, never quite reaching the conclusions its audience long to view. However, this is the genius of Butterworth’s writing. Every inclusion, every line, every minutia of characterisation has been considered carefully, redacted, and engineered to create a manifold sequence over an extremely brief stage time. That said the script is not without it’s flaws. The character of Lue in particular is insubstantial. As a catalyst one understands her inclusion, but in a play where the four males are so clearly defined and characteristically individual, her presence is little more than a foil, teasing information and affect from West and Wally.
Synoptically, the play centres upon Len West, a gangland exile whose isolation on Dartmoor leaves a hermit-like flavour to the narrative. His associate Wally and Step-Son Patsy arrive on his request to interject some semblance of normality into his otherwise isolated existence. His neighbors Draycott, a vicious tramp, and Lue, the enigmatic and abused lodger, augment this principle storyline with a dichotomy of country life both naïve (Lue) and cynical (Draycott). These same sentiments are echoed from the city in Patsy and Wally respectively. This is a play full of echoes. Tight dialogue enphasises crackling tensions, and the rift between life in Len’s past and his current situation. Set against this, insightful monologues colour character gaps, especially Patsy’s, whose seeming superfluous nature belies his centrality in events.
The echoes are the principle strength of this script. The emphasis on repetition, small talk and reminiscence is crucial to ensuring that West and particularly Wally are not written off as two-dimensional storyboards, actors in a given situation without history. Catlin’s direction in this respect was admirable. She entices the audience into strange situations, and the actors capably portrayed the sense of ‘back story’. However, there is an implicit failure here, which was overlooked. Much of the contradiction in the play, and much of West’s longing for return is indicative of the clash of cultures between country and city. The problem was that sitting in the audience, I felt no sense that these were autonomous entities looming large in the mind of Len. The script portrays the countryside as a malign, almost conscious presence. This was wonderfully established by the howling wind played throughout which gave the invasive atmosphere, as did the haunting and skeletal set. However, I never felt that Len was that ill at ease with the countryside. His character did not seem deformed by the experience nor his desire for return sufficiently desperate. That said, these may be scriptural failings rather than performative.
Adam Wood’s portrayal of the title role was excellent in its restraint. It takes great maturity of acting to recognize the centrality of your part, even if that part is unimportance in deciding the outcome of events. His emotion was genuine, and character progression was seamless. The only slight criticism is that he seemed insufficiently apprehensive of the reunion before it occurred, though perhaps his previous dominance, as exhibited with admirable coldness later, assured his character from the start. Oli Silver’s patsy was superb. His diction was impeccable, cocky and yet uncertain. This insecurity was wonderfully conveyed by subtle moments of humour, and his questioning confrontation with West crackled with an energy and physicality I have rarely seen on any stage. He was credible, human and ultimately the most sympathetic of all the characters, a masterful performance.
McMeekin’s Wally was studied, if anything too studied. This reviewer found it somewhat frustrating and inexplicable that most lines were delivered with an oddly formalistic and husky tone; impeding the naturalism of dialogue and reminding the audience they are watching actors. I felt also that he was too phased, too expressive and too remorseful about the death of Jerry. That said his physicality was impeccable and his timings sufficiently calculated, yet I was left feeling that he cared too much as to who succeeded out of Patsy and West.
Dave Maggs was a well-rounded character and fully characterised Draycott. Comedy is natural in his character and he looked the part, with a good accent and strong stage presence. At times his blocking was puzzling and the direction of his deliveries lacked the significance they might have had. But he was sinister, comedic and a perfect embodiment of what Len hates in the countryside. Set against this, Jenni Herzberg was frustrating as Lue. I never felt we connected with her character, partly because her desperation is far too abrupt and ill explained by the script. She also lacked projection and the dog box was handled rather carelessly, robbing it of the scriptural focus it deserves as a pre-amble to the desperation of the ending. She was almost too assured to be wholly broken, yet for all this she provided an admirable turn and several poignant moments when supplemented by other characters.
Overall then, Catlin’s production was focused, taut and thrilling. The script crackles and fizzes with undercurrents of tension, age gaps and the lost sense of belonging. Her excellent cast largely realised this vision, with the only critique being that occasionally lines dragged, landing heavily in pauses, which could have been shortened by a better physical portrayal of responses. I left feeling saddened, confused and provoked by a wonderful script, excellently realised by the cast. This is undoubtedly a play to see, to ruminate on and see again. A powerful study of isolation and status, as chilling as the breeze whistling through the shattered stage.
Review Four by Alley Ornum
The 2010 spring season at the New Theatre kicked off with a bang last night as the first performance of The Winterling took to the stage. If this play is a taster of what’s to come, then it’s definitely a season you don’t want to miss.
Set in a dreary Dartmoor farmhouse, the play opens with an empty suit hanging centre stage. Before the actors even appear the audience already gain a sense of foreboding, due to the excellent set design and lighting. The roof of this abandoned farmhouse stretches into the first few rows of the audience, inviting them into this world of threat and deception. The blue lighting conveys the chill permeating into every corner, and engulfing each and every character. As the audience settles in the lights go down and the empty suit is dropped like an executed man. The menacing tone is thus set for the play as the actors take the stage.
Although the plot tends to be somewhat confusing at times with flashbacks and unclear character motivations, the acting by each and every performer makes it impossible to lose interest. Of particular mention is Ollie Silver who was perfectly cast as Patsy, a young naïve London gangster overflowing with confidence. Silver fully embraces his character and commands the stage, even when strutting around in his underwear. I couldn’t help but think of Jason Statham from the 2000 film Snatch in regards to his acting style and line delivery.
David Maggs excellently portrays Draycott, a crazed local tramp who “had a fight with a badger once.” His West Country accent rarely falters, and he manages to extract the comic moments that can be lost in a play with such heavy subject matter.
Jenni Hertzberg plays the character of Lue, a homeless girl and the only female part in this male dominated cast. Although I appreciated the chemistry when Hertzberg played opposite the character of West and Patsy, I didn’t always believe the portrayal of vulnerability in her character. Perhaps more physicality is needed to give this performance more emotional depth.
Overall, it is hard to believe that this is a student production, and not a play put on by a professional theatre company. Highly polished and always intriguing, The Winterling sets the bar high for this seasons productions at the New Theatre. It is a show that you don’t want to miss with performances you will be talking about long after leaving the theatre.