I did not plan on going to see Port at the National Theater. The tag line, “two kids, largely abandoned and growing up in the deprived suburban shadows of Manchester,” made me think it was likely to be cutesy or preachy or maudlin and, even worse, feature child actors. However, when I got an invitation to go to press night for free, I’m afraid I wasn’t able to resist. Free theater! Starting at 7 PM! Hurray!
Unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed this play at all, though the impressions I got from the info on the National’s web site was pretty much entirely incorrect. I really thought it was going to be about an eleven and a six year old kid running wild, living under bridges and dumpster diving while they tried to keep together; instead, it was about some weird little kids growing up into profoundly fucked up adults in an environment where they could have learned some humanity at some point along the way but seemed to have nearly entirely failed. I’ve rarely seen a bleaker portrait of a sub-middle class existence; and although this would seem to be the same income level of the people that I grew up with in America (i.e. “trailer trash,” bottom of the barrel poor), for some reason either as life is lived in Stockport or as playwright Simon Stephens chose to portray his characters, I found myself utterly unsympathetic to these two near-animals. Kate O’Flynn was completely believable as Rachael Keats, but after watching her attack her grandmother in a nursing home garden I no longer was rooting for her (and had lost my taste for chocolate). There may have been a bigger political message that I, as a foreigner, was indifferent to: but as a play watcher, I got neither much of a plot nor really any other reason to be sitting in the dark while these horrors played out in front of me. I grew up in worse circumstances than this and not only clawed my way out, but kept my ties to my family and friends. These people, Rachael and her brother Billy (Mike Noble), I wanted nothing more than to get away from them and get out of the room and let them carry on with their misery far, far from me.
Was this play realistic? Probably. Was the acting good? Yes. Was it worth watching? I think not. As I dashed into the comfort of sleeting rain, I wondered why in the hell wasn’t The River done here and Port done at The Royal Court? Does the National just have really poor standards for script acceptance? Does the Royal Court have much better connections with people who know how to make good plays? The whole thing is a mystery to me, but there’s no doubt in my mine that Port was a waste of money and effort.
(This review is for opening night, which was Monday, January 29th, 2013. It continues through March 24th.)