Stabbing leads to superb drama

The company taking hglt along The Long Road are (left to right) Sami Moghrabay, Josie Booth, Jon Richardson, Katy Evans and Maria Whitehouse.

The Long Road

Hall Green Little Theatre

*****

THE family has been shattered by the senseless stabbing to death of one of its sons. We learn about its members in a play that is beautifully written by Shelagh Stephenson. And we are drawn into their anguish by a company of five whose commitment and achievement are superb.

For the family, the long road is their journey towards coming to terms with what has happened. It is a road that finds its members steeling themselves to take the first step – by visiting the murderess in prison.

Early on, it is clear that the road will be as hard as it is long, because John, the bereaved father, now drinking four bottles of whisky a week, will not even talk about the woman who has taken one life and wrecked three others.

What he will do, and what makes any rapprochement appear highly improbable, is give vent to a mighty, raging frustration – achieved by Jon Richardson in a few towering moments of blind, disbelieving fury. This is magnificent, frightening theatre in Roy Palmer's fine studio production. It offers a privileged glimpse of what is driving a man who says that every time he thinks about the woman responsible for it all, his son is killed again.

Maria Whitehouse is a gentle joy as Mary, the dead man's mother – but even Mary can snap and there is a brief but excellent scene when family grief becomes domestic violence. She, above all, is the one who wants to understand what prompted the tragedy that is tearing them apart.  Meanwhile, she still buys her son the same rubbish food she always bought him. To that extent, he is still with them.

GRIEF-STRICKEN

Sami Moghraby is her other son; similarly grief-stricken, similarly bottling it up but similarly prone to desperate rage for the brother whom he believes – mistakenly – to have been his parents' favourite.

The action is dressed simply, with a small rectangular table and a few chairs. There's not much to distract us from the quality on offer. But I am sure we would have remained riveted, whatever was there.

Katy Evans is Emma, the murderess. Black-garbed, she is a permanent presence, sitting with her back to one of the studio walls; always in our sight as she is always in the family's thoughts. We get her measure pretty quickly. She is apparently without remorse; a truculent, foul-mouthed harpie who sits with folded arms and holds forth in Estuary English, to great effect and at a rate of knots. She is a mesmerisingly unattractive thug. Katy Evans captures her essence unerringly.

Somehow, if anything is to be done about the pain and the grief, the family has to meet her. An early attempt, guided by prison visitor Elizabeth (Josie Booth) descends into a shouting match. Elizabeth finds herself in a pig-in-the-middle situation. She is a quiet, well-spoken person. When she throws back a single four-letter reply to the recalcitrant Emma, we are just as shocked as we have been by Emma's unlovely diatribe. This is our appropriate, well-merited response to a finely reined-in performance.

Just one quibble. When Elizabeth visits the family, she should occupy the empty chair at the other end of the table. Then she would have her back only to Emma, instead of to one of the three sides of audience. To 25.06.11

John Slim 

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