Each His Own Wilderness*** (Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond)

Posted: May 12, 2015 in Theatre

wilderness_web_imageLeft wing politics are under the microscope again right now, perhaps in different ways from what might have been envisaged when this production started to take shape. The play, the first of only two written by Doris Lessing, explores the shallow roots of British radicalism more than half a century ago and effectively sounds a death knell. In 1958, Myra (Clare Holman) is still repeating the Socialist battle cries of the 1930s, but is short of causes to attach them to, CND taking up most of her time. Her 22-year-old son Tony (Joel MacCormack) returns home from two years of National Service to find Myra and the house a complete mess and yearns for order, stability and sanity. Lessing asks us to view events through Tony’s eyes and she paints a picture of well-meaning, chattering middle class lefties championing political causes which relate to worlds outside their own experiences. Myra’s latest lover Sandy (Josh Taylor) is Tony’s age and, when it is suggested that he should take up a career in politics, he is told to join the Labour Party, not because of any conviction but because he does not have the connections to make it to the top as a Tory. Some of this may resonate in the light of history made in May 2015, but there are very few respects in which Lessing’s writing is prescient; this is a drama belonging to the late 50s, a history lesson which throws light on the present day. The play is sometimes stilted and uneven in tone and there are patches when Paul Miller’s in-the-round production struggles to overcome these problems. John Lightbody, as one of Myra’s many ex-lover’s and Rosie Holden as his feeble, whining new girlfriend seem to play for comedy, going very much against the grain of the play. Susannah Harker redresses the balance with a strong display of dignified vulnerability as Sandy’s mother, also Myra’s best friend. However, the two leading performances are what hold this production together – Holman is a brittle rebel with very little cause, still pressing the case for the left wing, yet wondering what her life has been for if her beliefs come to nothing. Still more outstanding is the mature and sincere performance of MacCormack, commenting sardonically on the lifestyle of the mother to whom he is devoted, whilst seeking nothing more than the security of his family home. Tony represents the contentment and complacency which, by 1958, had already begun to undermine Myra’s style of radicalism. He wants to be left alone, free of political bullying, a sentiment which may be echoed by many at the end of the long 2015 Election campaign.

Performance date: 12 May 2015

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