I first encountered this play several years ago when a touring professional production visited the area with a big name in the title role. At the time, it made a not very favourable impression on me, striking me as a somewhat tedious piece, to the extent that I had completely forgotten about it during subsequent years.
So it was interesting to come to it again all that time later at the Criterion. I had re-acquainted myself with the bones of the play, and felt that it should have a lot more to offer than I had previously experienced. Such proved to be the case.
This is a stunning production in every sense. Director Annie Woodward has done a wonderful job in bringing out both the delightful humour and the moments of pathos in the piece.
The story concerns a recently widowed Jewish New Yorker (Mr Green) who has suffered a fall resulting from a close encounter with a car driven by the only other character in the play, Ross Gardiner. Ross has been ordered to fulfil a period of community service by visiting his victim once a week. This intrusion is, at first, deeply resented by Mr Green, but gradually the relationship starts to blossom as Ross reveals his own Jewish background. A guarded friendship develops between the two, which has many setbacks along the way as both reveal details of their backgrounds that spark off arguments and anger. It all leads to a very moving conclusion which I won’t reveal here.
As Mr Green and Ross Gardiner the Criterion has cast two of its most experienced and outstanding actors in Keith Railton and Chris Firth. Both are superb. Keith captures so perfectly the frailty, the anger, the sadness and, yet, the innate humour present in Mr Green, whilst Chris is totally natural as Ross – a man with his own problems to resolve. In the hands of lesser players some of the scenes could easily drag and even be embarrassing, but it is to the credit of director and cast that the evening is totally engrossing and believable.
Mention should also be made of the set by Doug Griffiths which is intentionally cluttered, but not dark or overly grubby, befitting the home of the recently dead Yetta; and I particularly liked the choice of music between the scenes – vaguely Jewish in style and very appropriate.
All in all, then, a thoroughly enjoyable performance, and probably my favourite evening in the theatre this year.