Passing time on dodgy knees

adrians wall

Adrian’s Wall

Malvern Forum

****

A FORTY year old office worker (Adrian) who decides to break out of his humdrum existence by undertaking to walk the length of Hadrian’s Wall with any old school-mates who care to join him, is the subject of Nick Wilkes’ new play in the Forum at Malvern.

It is a comedy of characters and verbal jousting with some underlying more serious themes; it is a rewarding evening at the theatre.

Initially he is joined in the venture by two contemporaries from his primary school, Nevil and Bryan. Not long after they encounter a veteran soldier of the Iraq war, who lives his life travelling the length of Hadrian’s Wall repeatedly and who becomes effectively their guide on the trek.

The comedy mainly arises from the contrast of characters: Nevil Bentley, the well-to-do son of a successful author, is a bit of an ‘anorak’ with his gluten-free diet and gadgetry, a cultured, educated and eccentric pedant, who fusses about his health, his use of language and his own failure as a writer. He could come out of P.G. Wodehouse.

Bryan Smallbone is an unemployed builder from Barnsley whose marriage is collapsing under the pressure of unemployment and lack of money, and who combines moments of depression with aggression and earthy humour. The two conflict sharply in the first act especially.

HUGE STRIDES

They join Adrian, a formerly obese man, who has made huge strides in losing weight but whose knees will not last the next decade!

During their increasingly painful journey, we occasionally get flashbacks to past scenes in the lives of the individuals, giving us an insight into their personal journeys: the marital row between Bryan and his young wife Tina; Adrian and his psychiatric nurse assessing his medical progress; Nevil experiencing the publisher’s rejection; and most vividly Stewart’s front-line battle traumas under heavy fire in Iraq.

The interplay of the characters provides the entertainment but through the frivolity Nick Wilkes manages to raise numerous serious issues. He contrasts the trivial worries of the three schoolmates with the serous and life-changing traumas of the young soldier.

Time and mortality, divorce, recession and financial stress, most significantly the devastating impact of modern warfare on young men are highlighted, particularly in the scene with the unsympathetic milkman who inhabits a totally different world to the homeless rough-sleeper. This is linked to the production serving to promote the work of Help for Heroes.

The play is in a traverse setting: the audience look across the wall and the action to the audience on the other side. The simple set works brilliantly, the grass glinting with dew, one side of the wall at one point opening up to become an armoured personnel carrier in the Iraqi desert under fire from the enemy!

Murray Andrews as Nevil, stands out as the class act in a strong cast. His eccentric character entertains us with his apps on his phone telling us when he is moving, when he has stopped, how far he has come and how far is yet to go! The portable Foot-Spa epitomises his affluent preoccupation with gadgetry.

Rob Keeves, as builder Bryan, provides the comic antidote to Nevil; his northern accent slips at times and his long monologue about the Barnsley Building Cooperative is too long but he is a valuable source of humorous conflict with Nevil.

Robert Temple (Adrian) is the steady referee between the other two and provides a consistent performance. Pippa Meekings covers the female roles with great variety and contrast. The brooding presence in much of the play provided by Adrian Ross-Jones, the veteran soldier, is very powerful and convincing.

Despite the fact that this production is a bit too long and both the humour and the more serious issues could be handled more succinctly, it is a very entertaining evening, and the balance of humour and serious issues is very contemporary and the audience were very appreciative. Nick Wilkes is a talented writer and this is a production very worthy of support. To 20-09-14

Tim Crow

17-09-14

 

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