Port at The National Theatre

This review is a bit late, as for some reason I forgot to post it at the time. I just found it in my saved posts and wanted to share it.

This production ran from 22 January to 24 March 2013.

Watching Simon Stephen’s Port, directed by his trusty collaborator Marianne Elliott, is like flicking through a friend’s photo album. You see a series of moments – each one is self-contained, and in that small moment, you see one piece of the jigsaw that is their life. In that respect the play is quite beautiful.

So, through an episodic style, we follow the central character Rachael Keats over a fourteen year period. Rachael (Kate O’Flynn) first emerges as an energetic eleven year old, squabbling with her younger brother Billy (Mike Noble), and unintentionally agitating her mother (Liz White) whilst they are sitting in their cramped car after being locked out of their flat. The story moves to follow Rachael through her teenage years and early twenties, so in the last scene she is twenty-four and we see her moving on from Stockport; she’s beaten the troubles in her life that so heavily haunted her teenage years and early adulthood. O’Flynn obviously faced an extremely difficult challenge, showing Rachael’s development from childhood to womanhood. She handled it respectfully without patronisingly talking like a child, or throwing a “I am NOT YOUR SLAVE” inspired teenage strop. The play was incredibly touching and real at points; in particular, the conflict between Rachael and her father after the death of her granddad, was raw and choking to watch.

Yet, the play did have its downfalls. It was far too long. Most scenes were filled with two-hander conversations and not enough action on stage, a perfect example of this is the opening scene. Watching three actors in a car (one of which was in the back seat and not really visible) at the corner of the stage, and struggling to hear what they were saying, for what felt like half an hour, was neither entertaining or an engaging opening. What is more, the huge Lyttelton stage dwarfed the actors and forced them to unnecessarily move around it whilst they were talking. In particular, O’Flynn seemed to find it difficult to walk around the stage without flamboyantly lunging, jumping or running. For a play that is originally meant to be performed in the round, with a small intimate audience, perhaps the Cottesloe would have been more fitting…if only it wasn’t being renovated. To appreciate the tender harshness of Stephen’s writing, a smaller theatre seems essential, without it we can’t truly appreciate the characters; it appears this time Stephen’s language and meaning gets lost in those famously large National Theatre sets.

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