Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The Grapes of Wrath - Chichester Festival Theatre

The Grapes of Wrath By John Steinbeck
Adapted by Frank Galati
Director: Jonathan Church
Reviewer: David Saunders

I am not one of those people who are widely read in fact I consider myself to be thinly read at best. I have never read the classics and while I was aware of the basic outline of Grapes of Wrath that is about the limit of my knowledge. I had hoped for a sweeping portrayal of the desolation many of America’s families felt in during the Great Depression. Instead what I saw was a tender and intimate portrayal of a family struggling with the world around them but also their own internal struggles.

This production has within the company some fine performers, in the lead male role of Tom Joad; Damian O’ Hare brings power and control to a man struggling to keep his moral compass in the most trying of times. It is a performance of raw physicality aligned to good vocal control and a sharp accent. The same cannot be said of the as a whole cast some of whom struggle with the intricacies of the accent work required in the piece. The family ensemble work well as a unit clearly showing the sense of a family desperate to break free from the troubles they face as well as each other. Special mention should go to Sorcha Cusack who gives a performance at times both fierce and fragile bringing depth to what is written, showing a clear theatrical level of experience that is at times lacking across the company.

The direction of Jonathan Church allows the story to unfold at a gentle pace but there are some clever touches and inventive uses of the Festival Theatre space. We are able to see the varying tones and rhythm of Frank Galati’s adaptation as the characters are given room to breathe. The design of Simon Higlett is highly original and really places the audience in simple yet superbly realised detail throughout the piece it is a shame in many ways that the quality of the design work in setting, lighting and sound is not always matched by the quality of the performances.

In short this production is well worth a look and is at times all you hope for, searing, emotional, raw, beautiful, tender and dark. The question then is in this modern age where people cross continents without thought has our changing experience as a society diluted the power of this work? It seems unfortunately in places it has. There is the bigger question that are we better or worse of for this change?

Grapes of Wrath runs at the CFT until Sat 28th August in Rep with Oklahoma
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