12 October 2012

Insufficiency at The Riverside

While I had not exactly been avoiding the theatre over the Summer the opportunities were fewer as some places took a seasonal break and a lot of my cultural free-time was spent at opera festivals.

Now that Autumn has taken hold it is time to get back in the groove and that means going back to some regular haunts like The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.

The first thing that caught my eye in the new season was Insufficiency. The eye-catcher was that this is a play about chemistry written by a chemist, Carl Djerassi who is best known for the contraceptive pill.

The hero, and very much the main character, in the play is Jerzy Krzyz, a Polish chemist who has moved to the USA and is trying to get tenure as a professor. He feels, with some justification, that his career progression has been slowed by his foreign background and by colleagues who do not understand his work.

He works with bubbles and that means he gets sponsorship from champagne companies, much to the chagrin of his colleagues who have to wrestle endlessly with grant applications. In appreciation of this sponsorship and in frustration in his colleagues not being able to pronounce his name, he has changed it to Le Croix.

Jerzy thinks that the key to his progression is his research which he guards jealously, even writing his notes in Polish. His department head wants him to publish more to prove the worth of his research but Jerzy refuses. This tension is at the heart of the play.

The play opens with a court scene in which we learn that two of Jerzy's colleagues died suspiciously and Jerzy is being tried for their murder.

The play switches seamlessly between there and department head's office which allows the action to flow with little pause.

The court scene also allows the prosecutor (the excellent Karen Archer) to speak directly to us in the audience.

And using a trial to drive the narrative allows us to go back to individual episodes non-sequentially as each witness tells their story. It's a good story and well told.

The story obviously revolves around Jerzy and that works because he is such a believable character and is superbly played by Tim Dutton. He wins our sympathy with his honest aspirations and eccentric behaviour.

The story unfolds neatly joining some dots and adding new ones giving us a couple of little surprises towards the end.

Insufficiency is a tidy play with a heart of gold. Immensely enjoyable.

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