Diminished (Hampstead Theatre Downstairs)

Posted: April 13, 2017 in Theatre

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Pleas of “not guilty due to diminished responsibility” can often arouse suspicions among the uninformed that lawyers and others are out to manipulate the legal system for their own ends. Sam Hoare’s new play begins with the intriguing situation of a woman, Mary (Lindsey Marshal), facing imminent trial, insisting that that she knew exactly what she was doing and was in full control of her actions, while her psychiatrist, Dr Parker (Rufus Wright) and her lawyer/friend, Layla (Tamla Karl) insist that this was not the case.

The persistence of the professionals in the face of opposition from their patient/client makes an absorbing 25 minutes of drama and then, the crime is specified – Mary’s murder of her child, who was suffering from a cruel disorder – and the play changes direction to ask whether the pressures placed on a mother in such a situation must inevitably lead to responsibility for her own actions being diminished. It feels odd that a drama that runs for only 75 minutes would take so long to declare what it is actually about and even odder that Hoare drives the plot up side alleys at interval during the remaining 50 minutes. Does it really matter whether Mary may be having an affair with Dr Parker or whether Layla may be doing likewise with Mary’s husband Adam (Gwilym Lee)? And do we really need to hear so much of the back story of Mary’s prison visitor Celia (Wendy Nottingham), another mother who had been placed in a similar predicament?

Finding its focus and keeping it are the play’s chief problems, but dialogue that often feels unnatural is another. Marshall shows us Mary’s pain convincingly, but she has to battle against a script that makes the character seem unreasonably contradictory and thereby unsympathetic. Through no fault of the actors in Tom Attenborough’s fluent in-the-round production, the other four characters remain two dimensional. Hoare’s play is undoubtedly earnest and it understands the torment of the parenting dilemmas which it portrays, but muddled construction and unconvincing presentation diminish the strength of the pleas that it is trying to make to its audience.

Performance date: 12 April 2017

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