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Monday, 17 October 2011

Wheathampstead Players - Broken Glass

Broken Glass
Wheathampstead Dramatic Society
October 2011

I quite like that lot at Wheathampstead. For a start they are only just down the road and, more importantly, they regularly churn out my sort of theatre. And they do them very well. Taking Steps didn’t earn them too many of my brownie points but you could say that was as much to do with Ayckbourn as the company.  But with The Winslow Boy, London Cuckolds, Proof, and The Cemetery Club they displayed some cracking performers. The Cemetery Club, with  a trio of well crafted widows, knocked spots off a Dunstable Rep production on at the same time. And that one up the road was not bad by any measure.

So I was really looking forward to their production of Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass. Miller’s best years were considered well behind him when he turned this one out so it came as a surprise when it easily ranked with some of his major works from earlier times. I say some as, seeing it for the first time, it ain’t any All My Sons or Death of a Salesman. How good it is remains to be seen because, although an interesting evening, Wheathampstead’s interpretation rarely progressed beyond a faithful reading.

It wasn’t bad. Sarah Brindley turned in a splendid performance as the traumatised wife, haunted and paralysed by happenings in pre-war Germany, and Irene Morris was so classy as her sympathetic sister that I wished Miller had given her more to do. But the stereotypical mannerisms from Peter Jeffreys' troubled husband and Steve Leadbetter’s enigmatic doctor hindered depth and characterisation in the numerous disturbing scenes. Middle class Brooklyn Jews affected by the events of Kristallnacht – hence the title – should create a dramatic vortex of distorted lives. This didn’t. I listened intently but my emotions were only intermittently engaged.

I shouldn’t be too hard. Broken Glass strikes me as a hellishly difficult play and Wheathampstead should be applauded for giving it a go. But in spite of director Malcolm Hobbs' powerful initial imagery of Nazi atrocities and Miss Brindley’s intelligent portrayal, the heart of this late Miller was a little pedestrian. They are back to Ayckbourn in February with Time of My Life. He searches souls with a comedic pen as incisive as any Miller can turn up. And much more accessible.

Roy Hall

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