19 May 2015

Ah, Wilderness! at the Young Vic

Going to see an Eugene O'Neil play is always an easy decision to make and even more so when is is on somewhere like the Young Vic which has a happy habit of doing classic plays in modern ways so that they appeal to a wide-range of theatre lovers.

My knowledge of Eugene O'Neil plays is still somewhat limited and this was another one that I had not heard of, much less seen and I was keen to increase that knowledge. I was quick enough off the mark to claim a front row seat (A14 for £27.50). The Young Vic rings the changes with the seat layouts which makes it hard to decide where is the best place to sit and I chose this one in a corner of the U based on my visit to Happy Days. It worked again.

FourSquare reminds me that this was a busy day. I worked in Birmingham that day which was fine as our office was very close to Birmingham International station and there are lots of fast trains to Euston from there. I left work around 4:30pm, to be safe, and was in Southwark two hours later. First stop was Culture Grub for my usual curry and then a quick coffee at the Union Theatre Cafe theatre. I had, of course, considered having something to eat and/or a drink at the bar at the Young Vic but that was far too busy, a victim of its own success.

The down-time and refreshments had put me in the right mode for some theatre. My seat proved to be a good one and the only disappointment was the enthusiasm with which the attendants prevented photography, they are the worst theatre for this in my experience. The best I could come up with was the hastily taken, and hence blurred, picture below which I took on the way out. I just wanted something to remind me of the view I had of the stage,

I fell in love with the works of Eugene O'Neil through his grimy sea plays and this was nothing like that. Ah, Wilderness told the coming-of-age story of a young man buried in books and it was a jolly story peppered with a few darker moments.

The jollity came mostly from the young man who had the relentless optimism of youth and a passion for reading.

He was surrounded by his family including a successful father who epitomised firm-but-fair and a couple of siblings who rivalled and loved as siblings do.

Adding the darkness was a friend of the family who was unable to resist the lure of alcohol for long and that led to some bad drunken episodes where he disgraced himself. This addiction kept his long-term love from marrying him thus adding regret to embarrassment.

The young lad also had a drunken episode, led astray by a friend, but this was of the youthful excess kind, prostitutes were involved too, and it was one of the funny episodes in the story.

The story zipped along because the lad did, never still and never quiet there was always something happening that demanded attention.

The production did some very clever things without the cleverness getting in the way. The set, reminiscent of that used in Happy Days, effortlessly changed in to other places without really changing anything. Chairs appeared and it was a bar, a table appeared and it was a dining room, water appeared (by magic!) and it was a beach.

The best thing the production did was leave plenty of space for the strength of all of the characters to shine through and it was those characters in a touching story that made the play work for me.

This production of Ah, Wilderness! was just my sort of thing and judging by the full house and cheering at the end is was lots of other people's sort of thing too.

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