Review – There Came a Gypsy Riding – Almeida Theater

by

I was mocked tonight at the theater. I’d had a brief conversation with a woman in the bathroom at the Almeida, and I happened to pass by her talking to her knot of friends shortly thereafter. I heard this:
“Oh! Are you having a good time?”
“Wonderful, really, Actress X is so good tonight.”
“I just was talking to this girl in the bathroom and she said, ‘Ahr the aeccents off, oar is it jest me?'”
“Oh! How funny. I take it she was American?”

Anyway, tonight I went with Jess (and was most happily joined by Jason, who managed to get off call in time AND get a spare £6 ticket) to see There Came a Gypsy Riding. My actual conversation (in the ladies’ bathroom) went:
Me (to total stranger who sounded Irish): Ahr theyurr aiccents off?
Total stranger 1: I’m not Irish.
Total stranger #2: My seatmates are Irish and say there are.
Total stranger #3: They’re awfully, “Well, rahther.”

After, er, finishing up, #2 provided me with much more explicit detail: Imelda Staunton was UTTERLY failing her Donegal accent! (As if I could tell.) And Eileen Atkins, in the role of “the old nutter with the filthy mouth,” was apparently all over the place but since she was brilliant it was hard to care (I concurred).

The play itself was a good night at the theater but had a rough script lacking the, well, perfection of Night, Mother. Too many details were handled in an overly-heavy way; Bridget (the nutter)’s clunky description of finding the suicide, which reminded me of the occasional “explain the technology that enables interstellar travel” aspect of SF and denied the audience the pleasure of their own discovery of the story of the play; the dad’s quieter breakdown, which seemed to come at the moment in the play when the playwright needed it to happen rather than as a natural occurance that flowed up from the character; the sister’s brittle anger, which didn’t have any emotional depth to it. Sure, everyone was struggling, but none of them seemed to have had pasts in the way, say, Hedda Gabler does.

But still. The way the husband comforted and cared for his wife seemed to show the decades they’d spent together; the daughter’s panicked plea for her mother to “come back to us” did seem to come from the right place; and nutty Bridget’s scene talking about her marriage to Old Nick (and, much earlier, singing and dancing with dad) were very good. My hope is that the playwright will revisit and revamp this work and give the characters what they need to be real, or just focus on the mother altogether and let it be a completely brilliant role for “a woman of a certain age.” (And, ooh, I saw the actress who played Vera Drake tonight, woo!)

I leave you with pure beauty, as spoken from the play, an anticipation of a life cut short:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;–then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

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