What differentiates theatre from cinema or television is its immediacy; the live exchange between performers and audience which creates a unique experience every night. When done well, the results can be electrifying. This world premiere of ‘Garry‘, a play by the acclaimed but comparatively unknown playwright Sophie Treadwell, certainly feels special. There is a palpable energy from start to finish which is intensified by the intimate space – just six rows of eight bordering two sides of the stage. Those in the front row are inches from the feet of the actors; every breath, every glance, every drop of sweat is visible.
The set, a shabby 50s American living room with a radio playing music and adverts from the era (Camel cigarettes – the brand most doctors recommend), creates an inviting and tantalisingly nostalgic atmosphere. It soon becomes apparent that everything about this play has been carefully and beautifully choreographed, from the gorgeous design to Graham Watt’s excellent direction. The cast of four young actors are superb – and they have to be – carrying off the challenge with aplomb. The world created is one of familiarity but there is an ever-present uneasiness and unpredictability about the characters and their lives, which leads to a compelling 90 minutes of theatre.
As this is the first time the play has been performed, one can be forgiven for not having a clue what to expect. The play follows a traditional linear narrative but despite faint parallels that can be drawn with other writers (similarities with Tennessee Williams’ portrayal of homosexuality, for example) there is a remarkable originality to the voice and style. How much of this is inherent in the play and how much is down to Watt’s own interpretation and invention is difficult to tell, but from an audience point of view this doesn’t matter. The fact is it works. The dialogue is snappy, engaging and for the most part steers away from cliché (or what would now be considered cliché).
The eponymous character of Garry is somewhat of an enigma, being presented as both the oppressed and the oppressor. It is notable that much of what the audience learns about him is through the voices of the two female characters. Also notable is the choice by Treadwell to name the play after him when it is his newly wed wife whose life we follow most closely. A not so thinly veiled dig at the lot of women in 1950s America, perhaps. This play may not be a masterpiece – the final scene doesn’t quite deliver the knock-out punch it feels like it should, and although the actors are working hard, the suspense and tension is not always there.
That being said, it is really very good theatre; something that often feels rare to find. If overheard conversations are anything to go by, this production could transfer to a bigger theatre. When you have the chance to witness it at such close quarters in this wonderful venue, the advice from this reviewer is why wait?