Peter Gill Festival
by Jeremy Kingston, The Times, 3 June 2002
PETER GILLís new play Original Sin opens here later this week, only a couple of months after The York Realist, his previous play, ended its West End run, and Michael Grandage has had the marvellous idea of concurrently providing a season of Gillís earlier work in the Studio. Friendly Fire, performed by Sheffield Youth Theatre, is the most recent of these; the other three were written in the decade from 1976 and show him moving from a poetic analysis of troubled lives in 1950s Cardiff to seemingly lighter (but donít be deceived) revelations of troubled loves in 1980s London.
Loves are troubled in the Cardiff plays too, and troubles tarnish any contentment the Londoners might feel, because in Gillís work living and loving are synonymous. Honesty in one will spread honesty to the other, and poison in either destroys both.
If a theme is common to all three it is the lasting damage caused by family rivalry, family hatred, family dependence. In Small Change the two Catholic Cardiff mothers spoil their sons, through actions hard to pinpoint, and each son spoils himself and his friend ó Vincent by not loving Gerard, Gerard by not loving anyone else.
In Kick for Touch neither of the two adopted brothers can forgive the otherís childhood advantages ó which again are tricky to explain but they prove catastrophic for the woman they have shared. And in Mean Tears the fatuously vacillating lovers at the centre of an erotic, five-character catís cradle are tangled in hard granny knots of loathing for their parents.
The quality that indicates a Gill play is his way of suggesting those intense emotions that rage inside his characters, fuel their behaviour but are seldom articulated.
The power of the unsaid is revealed by dialogue that meanders through landscapes of small talk and then plunges over a cliff, and from the tiniest nuances of gesture, posture and tone. His three directors here (Rufus Norris, Josie Rourke, Paul Miller) do their jobs the way Gill has in the past, so that in watching the actors, astoundingly good in all three plays, we sense the extraordinary paradox of performances intensely controlled that yet feel real and fresh.
The Cardiff plays also shift about in time. Characters move between four chairs in one, sit around a table in the other, on stage throughout but not necessarily in the action. Dialogue can jump ten years between speeches, unheralded and unsignalled except through performance. It feels like the anguished circularity of obsession, where key events alter for ever the way a person sees the world.
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