The set seems very roomy in this production of Teaching A Dillo to Cross The Road, an activity which, mercifully, the audience does not literally witness on stage. But then, the play is set in the American Mid-West, where everything is far roomier than someone who lives and works in London is used to.
The pacing of the production borders on glacial on occasion, and only in its dying moments does it finally go into overdrive, though again the audience is witnessing a different pace of life.
Not that the characters aren’t on top of one another, so to speak, and this being a relatively small town – unspecified, as far I can recall – almost everybody knows almost everybody else to a greater or lesser extent. And there’s a whole load of (off-stage) sleeping around going on. Let’s just say Chase (Sam Landon) doesn’t go round to see his employee Will (Daniel Chrisostomou) at Will’s house just for some neighbourly chit-chat. Flo (Anna Brochmann), is carer for Sam (Graham Rollason), an 89-year- old man with dementia, and while Chase is marrying Hope (Rosalyn Mitchell) the next day, he still wants a final slice of Flo’s pie prior to matrimony. It gets even more complicated than that, once Will’s wife May (Rebecca Calienda) is also taken into consideration. At one point, such was the bedroom activity that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love musical came to mind.
There are few moments of comic relief in this play, which has its positives and its drawbacks. There are no nervous giggles to be had or any wondering about whether one should be laughing at the dark humour. On the other hand, its sheer intensity can be a bit of a slog after a while, and despite a comfortable running time I began to long for a slightly swifter resolution. That, of course, is not how real life works, and in being able to elicit such a response, this production has an appeal, particularly to those who like to be challenged and contemplative at the theatre.
Perhaps predictably, Flo starts off as being all timid and naive but ends up doing something that has more impact than any other single event in the play. At the start, matters are so cool and collected between characters that an atmosphere of growing simmering tension is quickly developed. There are details that are, to be blunt, superfluous, or at the very least, not strictly necessary. May’s persistent belching becomes too dull and repetitive. Someone’s cremated remains are messed around with inappropriately, which I didn’t find shocking, though maybe I ought to have done, but this was mainly because I was trying to figure out why it was done. I remain uncertain.
It’s not just in the UK that care home fees are a prevailing issue. The dependency certain characters have on alcohol was not, tellingly, sufficient to put me off having a glass of wine at the interval, and sometimes the plot develops so slowly, especially in the second half, that there was scope for my thoughts to wander away from Will’s front room for a moment or so without having missed much. I assume the play is set before the days of commonplace mobile telephony, what with Will’s obsessive reliance on the landline.
The play raises a lot of questions to be grappled with. While all human beings by definition are imperfect, Sam at least has a mental disorder that explains his behaviour. As for the rest of the characters, it is difficult to feel much empathy for them. The glimmer of hope Will paints in the final scene is indicative of the prevailing aspiration of the American Dream, leaving me torn between cynicism that the characters’ issues will ever be properly resolved and a prevailing thought that there’s nothing wrong with ambition. A thoughtful and somewhat intriguing production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
It all started when…
Will returns to May, his alcoholic wife, who is burdened with looking after Will’s sick father Sam, with the aid of the mousy nurse Flo, who’s recently lost her father and is carrying around the urn of his ashes unsure of where scatter them.
We are thrown into a world of volatile uncertainty as we enter the lives of these mid-western working class Americans. Sex, violence, alcohol, death and unspoken tragedy are major players in this explosive piece of new writing by American playwright David Moberg.
Venue: Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
Dates: Tuesday 22 to Saturday 26 August 2017