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Posted by : TimothyRamsden on Jan 22, 2006 - 02:47 PM Archive

by Lynn Redgrave

New End Theatre 27 New End NW3 To 19 February 2006
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sat & Sun 3.30pm
Runs 1hr 20min No interval

TICKETS: 0870 033 2733
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 January

An outstanding piece of theatre writing with a performance to match.

This jewel of a piece, with its immaculate performance, ought to be full each night, with a transfer following. Not to big West End houses, where the quiet detail of Caroline Johnís wonderfully graduated performance would have to be coarsened, but a suitably-sized venue where more people could enjoy its pure, yet piercing pleasure. This may seem over-fulsome, but, true to its title, Nightingale (the sweet voice heard only from the dark) should not go unsung.

As a detailed, distinctive examination of one Victorian-born womanís life (the author's grandmother), and through it the experience of at least one generation of (middle-class) women, the play is startlingly, beautifully expressive. Its way is elusive, jumping between intense experiences, not so much introducing new characters in the life of Mildred Asher as pulling them into instant view.

Any edginess this gives reflects young Mildredís lack of control over her life: as a girl fearful sheís annoyed God because she canít concentrate on a sermon, the frightened ignorance of marriage night with an unloved husband, the cuddling of daughter Rose, whose birth was so painful, pile up the guilty agonies. In contrast thereís a dawning desire for the farmer she meets on a solo West Country holiday and the devastating love for her son Markie; so complete she blames herself for his wartime death thousands of miles away.

Suddenly, Rose is a titled lady and West End star, whose mother refuses to be kept waiting to see her after A Dollís House. Here, we can go behind any pseudonyms; Rose is the authorís mother Rachel Kempson, her title in life Lady Redgrave, wife to Sir Michael.

Seamlessly, moving over Charlotte Damigosí tactfully rural setting with its backing hillside, John lets years jump, with voice and movement maturing precisely alongside Mildredís developing, then firm-setting mind. Rarely can the alteration of youthful innocence and fears into older firmness, with a bitter tinge and streaks of regret, have been so well modulated. Under Mildredís polite exterior John unfailingly exposes the intensity of experience. This show is a joy to write about; a far greater one to see.

Mildred Asher: Caroline John

Director: Lynn Redgrave
Designer: Charlotte Damigos
Lighting: Mick Hughes
Associate director: John-Jackson Almond
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