Jan 3rdLuke Tudball
For Arnold Wesker it's turning out to be a pretty good year. And it's only March. Not only is he three-quarters of a century in age, but also newly a knight of the realm. On top of that, his classic play 'The Four Seasons' is being revived to celebrate it all by Version Theatre at the Arcola, in Hackney.
Wait a minute. It was going so well. Hackney did you say? Oh. Ah well. (Such was my colleague's response to the invitation to the first night).
I paused and thought, well what do I actually know about that? As it turns out, not as much as I should, because despite being one of London’s most deprived areas, Hackney has the highest concentration of artists living anywhere in Europe; and since September 2000, when Mehmet Ergen, Artistic Director of the Arcola Theatre, converted an old textile factory into an arts space, it has also been the home to the multi award-winning Arcola Theatre, one of London's largest and most adaptable fringe venues.
It's appropriately blustery en route, and so very nice to reach the warm and welcoming bar, come cafe, come foyer of the Arcola, bristling with excitement for what's to come, and made all the more exotic by the aromas of nearby Turkish eateries. As I wait, I remember that this play was originally staged with Wesker himself directing a young Alan Bates and Diane Cilento, and was not so well received by the critics. "It was the first of my plays,'' wrote Wesker mournfully in later years, "which appeared on stage not as I conceived it.'' With this in mind, I was curious to see if the play had weathered the years, still remained controversial, or if, perhaps, it had mellowed with age and found its niche. It is, after all, over thirty years old having been written in 1965 in the midst of the 'angry young men', social realism and the permissive society, a "humanist and lyrical hymn to the ephemeral power of love".
The play itself neatly divides itself, as you would expect, by four, with the lovers arriving in the winter, deciding to commit one year to each other in a remote and deserted house, and Adam trying to thaw Beatrice's speechless misery. Falling in love in the spring, but by summer dredging up old arguments and falling out of it again, only to part in the falling leaves of autumn. And all of this, with pretty much no explanation or background. But perhaps that's the point. The lovers, and the audience, pushing themselves to their limits in an effort to understand their limits.
As it goes, it's no mean feat, eighty odd minutes with no interval and only two actors on stage, travelling the length and breadth of their emotions, from joy and laughter, to tears and anger, frustration and indifference. As the seasons change, the lovers uncover painful truths about themselves. Hoping to break free from the past and to start afresh, they push apart their world to test the limits of their own relationship.
Richard Darbourne and Juliet Crawford, Adam and Beatrice, handle the material well, and have certainly been well cast, but at times, perhaps, try a little too hard to impress and deliver Wesker's very wordy text. James Copp, who is currently education and new writing manager at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington, though, does a fine job of direction and there are some very nice moments throughout, especially in the design of the piece (for which special credit should be given to the creative team), which has the cast literally unpacking their life from what seems like an oversized dolls house, opening and closing the lid to portray the passing of time, rather like a storybook.
All good stories though must come to an end and so does this, but not in a way that leaves you satisfied. Rather, you are left wondering if it's all worth the hassle. On balance, I think it is, and although it's not the easiest or most central of venues, the Arcola Theatre is worth the effort to find. Version Theatre have taken on a big project here, and while at first glance it looks a little like a new pair of shoes perhaps a size too large, I think that with some wearing in, this will become a very comfortable proposition for anyone willing to go the distance.
'The Four Seasons' runs until March 24, 2007 at the Arcola Theatre, 27 Arcola Street, London E8 2DJ
Tickets: £13 / £9 (concessions)
For more information call the Box Office on 0207-503-1646 or visit www.arcolatheatre.com
More information on Arnold Wesker can be found at www.arnoldwesker.com
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