Pictured: Rupert Friend in Brimstone and Treacle
Published: 10 May, 2012
by RUSSELL PARTON
Dennis Potter’s controversial tale of suburban insularity, fear and xenophobia is, according to director Amelia Sears, massively relevant to the present day.
In this first major revival of the play, parallels to the present are drawn by edging the action forward in time to 1977, another jubilee year.
The audience files in to find a joyless, middle-aged man sitting in an armchair, arms folded, impatiently waiting for his wife to bring him a sandwich.
An embroidery that reads “Bless this house” adorns the back wall and a yellow light, like the faded pages of a book, gives a time-worn impression.
Mr Bates believes “everyone’s up to something”, and has recently joined the National Front.
Mrs Bates lives entirely indoors, looking after the couple’s daughter Pattie (Matti Houghton), chronically disabled after a hit-and-run accident.
The appearance at their claustrophobic and unhappy home of Martin Taylor, a sinister outsider who claims to have known and been in love with Pattie, is both the answer to Mrs Bates’s prayers and any parent’s worst nightmare.
Rupert Friend excels in the role: he is the innocent flower, calling Mrs Bates “Mumsie” and complimenting her on “superbly brewed” tea, but is also the serpent under’t, raising his eyebrows and shooting sly looks to the audience that make his malign intentions clear.
Tessa Peake-Jones puts in a strong, pathos-filled performance as Mrs Bates, unquestioningly submissive after years of being browbeaten by her casually racist husband, while Ian Redford as
Mr Bates alternates well between red-faced bluster and nostalgic yearnings for “the England I used to know”.
The inclusion of punk music between the acts, and making Pattie synonymous with it, as she unexpectedly writhes on her bed, suggesting a shared struggle to communicate, is a clever directorial tweak to a daring and brilliant script that challenges notions of good and evil, played with aplomb by a talented cast.
Until June 2
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