Shining a light
Peter Buckroyd reviews Visitors at the Bear Pit
I didn’t know Barney Norris’s Visitors and wasn’t wholly convinced that I would like it. It’s about a partly dysfunctional family where farmer husband Arthur is faced with the prospect of his wife Edie’s developing Alzheimer’s and son Stephen tries to do something about the situation by employing Kate to look after them. That’s the plot. All the audience’s attention is on character and interaction and so it needs a very careful, subtle approach if it is to engage and sustain interest.
Director Toby Homer does this triumphantly. Working clearly closely with designers Gill Butler and Kathy Flynn he made sure that there was not a vestige of ‘acting’ in the whole thing. At first sight the set looked simple. The two white doors create a clear sense of geography with the upstage left door leading to the kitchen and the upstage right one leading to the imagined stairs and front door. But after a while you realise that their two chairs and the table between them are in the middle of a huge empty space with furnishings round the edges. And this is not the only metaphor which turns into a symbol.
At the beginning of the second half Kate was stage left ironing a single white woman’s blouse but at the end she brought in the jumbled washing and left it in its plastic basket on the table downstage right. This idea of left and right hemispheres of the brain was carried through the production almost subliminally.
The acting was wonderful. Juliet Grundy was outstanding as Edie, movement and voice wonderfully controlled and conveying a huge range of emotion and mood. Her hands were a joy to watch — subtle, significant and expressive. Her posture and movement developed almost unobtrusively through the play.
Kevin Hand as Arthur was equally impressive and his subtle finger movement gave a lot away about what he was feeling.
Zoe Mortimer was amazing as Kate. I didn’t see a single moment when she was posturing, declaiming or doing acting. Completely convincing. Her part calls for a considerable range of feeling and moods and she took them all on board.
Stephen, played by Barry Purchase-Rathbone, is a selfish bastard. At first we think we are just seeing him through the eyes of Arthur and Edie but then we realise that everything he says and does has a selfish motive. The arrogant tilted back head worked well to alienate the audience from him in the first half but when it relaxed in the second we had to be careful not to be fooled by his apparent caring. Never did any of the actors move because they had been told to do so. The whole thing was character driven.
There are complex issues and emotions in this play. Toby Homer brought them all to light by not over-emphasising them.
I loved it. Up there as one of the best Bear Pit productions.