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The Retreat by Jason Sherman at Finborough Theatre

How refreshing to come across a play that is so involving that you are impatient for the interval to end so that you can find out what happens! Such is Jason Sherman’s The Retreat, first seen in Toronto in 1996, but which has taken twenty-seven years to reach the United Kingdom. The wait has been more than worthwhile!

The Retreat - Credit Ali Wright.
The Retreat – Credit Ali Wright.

The play concerns Rachel (Jill Winternitz) a thirty-year-old Canadian Hebrew school teacher who longs to be a screenwriter, and to this end attends a writers’ “retreat” in order to hone her skills under the tutelage of David Fine (Max Rinehart), a successful script doctor who runs a movie company with producer Jeff Bloom (Michael Feldsher). It is, in the best romantic fashion, love at first sight, but Sherman’s writing is so good that the plot never feels hackneyed or stale; in fact we quickly get drawn into the lives of the protagonists and want to know more and more…

Winternitz has great chemistry with Rinehart: as lovers, they are completely believable, not just because of the superb understated writing but because we quickly feel we know these people and empathise with them. The pace they live their lives, almost as if there may be no tomorrow, is shown in the way they speak their quick-fire lines and their mannerisms greatly aid their characterisations.

Bloom is the “villain” of the piece, and Feldsher oozes subtle unpleasantness until we believe nothing he says or does. “What a bastard” as my colleague said! The fact that he is obviously enjoying manipulating Rachel makes him appear even more evil – but totally believable. “You want to slap him”.

Rachel’s father Wolf is given a lovely, warm portrayal by Jonathan Tafler: someone to whom both David and Rachel can turn to when all else fails: he is always there, always willing to help, rather than criticise and say ‘I told you so’.

Both the play and the actors are greatly aided by director Emma Jane Harris who has imbued her production with great internal energy, whilst seeming to allow her cast to express themselves freely.

Effective, simple, set and costume design are by Alys Whitehead with the sort of lighting design that one does not notice (so it must be good!) by Ben Jacobs and occasional projections by Cheng Keng.

This is a wonderful, life-affirming play, well constructed and totally gripping: you really want to know what happens to Rachel and Max as if they were close friends of yours, and you come out of the theatre with that ‘warm glow’ feeling that perhaps we all need at the moment.

VERY highly recommended: I should love to see it again! A truly wonderful play and a wonderful evening at Finborough Theatre! GO!!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

Rachel, a 30-something Hebrew school teacher, is aching to be a screenwriter. And it doesn’t help that she’s in hot water with her bosses for criticising Israel’s actions on the West Bank in front of her pupils.

David and Jeff are two independent film producers in need of a good script. While Jeff is pragmatic about the schlock they put out, David yearns for artistic substance. He thinks he may have found it in Rachel’s ambitious but unwieldy script about a false messiah – but he soon finds himself enthralled by more than Rachel’s writing.

Inspired but reeling, Rachel is intoxicated by the possibilities of a new career and a new life, but fears that she may be compromising her integrity. Meanwhile, Jeff aims to bring everyone down to earth with the cynical realities of the film industry.

As David and Rachel’s professional and personal lives entwine, they undertake a life-changing journey into the meaning of power, and the meaning of unyielding loyalty.

A fast-paced acerbic take on art, craft, money and passion.

by Jason Sherman
Tuesday, 25 April – Saturday, 13 May 2023

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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