It’s sometimes said of offspring that happen to display similar modes of behaviour to their parents that they are ‘a chip off the old block’. This is often meant to be complimentary to both generations, but in a show with a title like The Bad Seed, whichever way one looks at it, young Rhoda Penmark (Rebecca Rayne) is not portrayed kindly. Not that anyone uses that particular idiom in this play, but Rhoda is a version of what certain religious texts consider the Devil to be – a master of deceit, appealing, well-mannered and civilised on the outside, but rotten underneath a glossy exterior. Does Rhoda manipulate the audience as well as other characters in the show? This production seemed to have a strong impact on some fellow audience members who were encountering The Bad Seed story for the first time.
In order to get to some sort of explanation as to how Rhoda is a victim of biological circumstances (that is, to justify the show’s title), there’s a fairly interesting but ultimately heavy-going academic discussion between Reginald Tasker (Aneirin George), a writer, and Richard Bravo (Stephen Good), Rhoda’s grandfather. The conversation tries its hardest to be invigorating but it is still, in essence, an informal lecture, even if some of the theories have some degree of (perfectly comprehendible) logic attached to them.
Overall, this theatrical adaptation came across as a largely faithful rendering of the salient points of the novel, sticking closer to the original text than the 1956 film. The alternative, I suppose, would be to stage something like Gatz, a word-for-word performance of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel ‘The Great Gatsby’, with a performance time of 6 hours 15 minutes; intervals, including a meal break, make the whole thing over eight hours.
The action here never leaves the Penmarks’ front room, which limits but focuses the evening’s proceedings. Rhoda’s parents are Kenneth (Andrew Futashi), who disappears on business in the first few moments of the play and doesn’t return until there’s a reunion not unlike the one at the end of The Railway Children, and Christine (Beth Eyre), who only has one expression – forever nervous, forever unsure of herself. I don’t mean to attack the performer for being one-dimensional. Eyre is, in fact, convincing in her role, but the character itself is simply relentlessly apprehensive, and Eyre is to be congratulated for keeping maintaining such intensity so unflinchingly throughout.
The accents are, truth be told, occasionally questionable. Nonetheless, it comes across well enough that this is the suburb of a Southern city in the United States. Almost everyone is so folksy and delightful that even private conversations between Christine and her landlady, Monica Breedlove (Jessica Hawksley), effortlessly display courtesy of the highest order. Breedlove, clearly a deliberate choice of character name, is larger than life in more ways than one. Leroy (Brian Merry), Breedlove’s caretaker and handyman, reminded me of Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men, a sociable and strong hard worker but one who needs looking after if he’s to make it in life.
A little too much time at scene changes is spent staring at an empty space, and some tightening here wouldn’t go amiss. At other times, the number of doorbells and incoming phone calls make the Penmark apartment an almost implausibly busy place. There’s a lot of verbal description going on as the play draws heavily on dialogue to create an increasingly foreboding atmosphere. I loved the relative lack of music even at the most heightened of moments, as this production rightly chooses to let the acting and dialogue ‘sing’ unaccompanied: more productions should have this level of confidence in its performers and in the text.
An intriguing and haunting production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Christine Penmark has it all. A loving husband. A beautiful home. The perfect daughter. But when tragedy strikes on Rhoda’s school trip, and a classmate is discovered drowned, Christine is forced to confront the growing number of “accidents” that happen when her daughter is around.
Obedient, charming and intelligent beyond her years, Rhoda is a parent’s dream child. But what if underneath the sweet exterior beats the heart of a cold-blooded sociopath? Regarded as one of Broadway’s outstanding and chilling hits, OutFox Productions present Pulitzer Prize winner Maxwell Anderson’s play, adapted from the critically
acclaimed novel by William March.
The Bad Seed is revived by OutFox, whose previous work at the Jack includes Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, Patrick Hamilton’s Rope and Sarah Daniel’s The Gut Girls.
The Bad Seed
by Maxwell Anderson
directed by John Fricker
Venue: Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
Box office: www.brockleyjack.co.uk
or 0333 666 3366 (£1.50 fee for phone bookings only)
Dates: Tuesday 14 March to Saturday 1 April 2017
Performances at 7.45pm