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|A CurtainUp London Review
I’ve done bad things. I was in a show last year about a group of dead animals. I was a hedgehog. I didn’t move for three hours.— Miles
Canadian Michael Healey’s charming and witty play The Drawerboy gets a pitch perfect production at London’s most exciting fringe theatre, The Finborough. Based on a true story, the play is set in the Canadian farmlands with a young theatre professional researching material for a devised drama. The strange elderly couple who run the Canadian farm are gruff and taciturn Morgan (Neil McCaul) and the altogether softer Angus (John Bett) who seems confused or just very forgetful. But the driving force of the play comes from the juxtaposition of the enthusiasm and love for the theatre of aspiring actor Miles (Simon Lee Philips) with the older countrymen.
Simon Lee Phillips as Miles and Neil McCaul as Morgan
(Photo: Ben Broomfield)
Seemingly forever caught up in a displacement activity of preparing meat loaf sandwiches for himself and Morgan, Angus shuffles round the set with the innocence of a child. But give Angus a sheet of numerical calculations and he will give you the answer with the speed of Dustin Hoffman’s “idiot savant” in Rainman.
Miles is set to work on the farm by Morgan, who although he has a Welsh name, has that austere, even mean attitude of the Scots Presbyterian work ethic. The mindless work experience type tasks for Miles include scrubbing gravel as Morgan decides early on that the combination of Miles and the tractor is a liability.
Much of the charm comes from Angus’ character interacting with the young actor. We are told that Angus was injured when as a soldier in Europe during the war he was caught in the London Blitz. As they start to exchange stories, Angus’ memory seems to get better in the way that reminiscence therapy makes those struck with memory loss feel better as the memories of their youth are clearer than recalling where this morning they put their false teeth. The layers are peeled away to reveal a dark and terrible secret. At an altogether lighter level, theatre people will enjoy Miles’ retelling of the essentials of Hamlet story in the updated language of 20th century teenspeak.
There are moments of high humour such as when Miles tells us about the director’s rejection of his bizarre Dance of the Hay Bale Stacker contribution to the Farm show or when Morgan asks Miles asks Miles how he would describe himself politically and Miles replies “Well, I’m an actor.”
The performances are delightful and I thought we were watching Canadian actors! Neil McCaul’s voice resonates with wonderful depth but it is the performance from John Betts which is disarmingly attractive. This is a play to stay in your psyche, theatre which both fully engages the heart and satisfies the intellect.
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Written by Michael Healey
Directed by Eleanor Rhode
Starring: John Betts, Neil McCaul, Simon Lee Phillips
Design: Molly Einchcomb
Sound and original composition Composer: George Dennis
Lighting: Howard Hudson
Presented by Snapdragon and Nicola Seed in association with the Finborough Theatre
Running time: Two hours with one interval
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking to 14th July 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd June 2012 performance at The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED (Tube: Earls Court or West Brompton)
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