Friday, 21 September 2007

Review: Awake and Sing!

I was slightly disappointed on my first acquaintance with Awake and Sing! by Clifford Odets at the Almeida Theatre. I’d heard so much about the play and its importance in the American cannon (precursor to Miller, social realism and politics combined etc), but although I think it is decent piece, it certainly does show its age (especially compared to many a Miller play or even the recently revived Great White Fog, by Theodore Ward, which had a period atmosphere but still felt somehow relevant). Awake and Sing receives a gutsy production from Almeida boss Michael Attenborough, with the US actress Stockard Channing as the Berger family matriarch. The story is of a New York Jewish family in the interwar period, not exactly dirt poor, but poor enough to make life hard. Ralph (Ben Page) wants to be free of the constraints of his overbearing mother, he also hates the financial pressure he is under, never able to do as he pleases. His sister Hennie (Jodie Whittaker) has become pregnant and her mother tricks a naive immigrant to marry her (he’s not the father), Hennie herself hates her pathetic new husband. Uncle Jacob (John Rogan) espouses freedom and socialism to the youngsters, but is mocked and ignored by his own children. All this adds us for some interesting family drama, the lies that have to be told and compromises that have to be made. At the end of the play, with Uncle Joe dead (probably suicide) and her own husband realising that he may not he the father of ‘their’ child, she is set to run away with an injured WWI veteran, now small time crook, whom she loved all along, but of course never showed it much. I wasn’t convinced by this. A mother abandoning her baby at the drop of a hat, her brother eagerly encouraging this, where would they go? The play said some interesting things about the pressure of poverty, and the sometimes misplaced hopes of the poor, but it is mainly a good solid familial drama. Performances were good all round, and the evening was enjoyable enough. A solid production, but certainly not a play that will make you cry, shock or inspire you.

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