Affectionate, deliberate and stripped-back: all three words apply to the adaptation of Robert Holman’s play Jonah and Otto directed by Tim Stark and designed by Simon Bejer. This original drama first published and staged in 2008 is a simple yet Beckettesque story of an encounter between two men in a public garden in a seaside town on the south coast of England. Otto is a clergyman in his sixties, full of self-pity and completely dissatisfied with his life. Jonah is a young twenty-something whose girlfriend has gone to France to see her sick father. Jonah passes the time in the park with their baby daughter Ginny because he was unable to board the ferry. To cut a long story short a conversation starts between the old vicar and the young man which will force them to re-evaluate their lives in a single day.
The pace of the play is very slow but it has both emotional highs and moments of comedy. Peter Egan and Alex Waldman (playing Otto and Jonah respectively) portray two characters who could not be more different. Otto’s background is middle-class and he has a doctorate in divinity while Jonah has been always poor and is a university dropout. Although they often clash when discussing in turns God, love and family they are drawn to each other and find out that they are not dissimilar after all. Egan as Otto shines in this production achieving the heights of lyricism enabled by Holman’s heartening drama. Waldmann is very good too, especially when showing frustration and confusion which Jonah suffers from.
I wish the stage design was more imaginative and more developed. A sidewalk, a wall and five wooden boards stuck to it (that later turn out to be paintings of clouds) are such a minimalist design idea that it disappoints. There is no doubt however that spectators will have an enjoyable, touching, perhaps even a nostalgic experience during the performance of Jonah and Otto which is not only based on a thoughtful text but it is also really well-acted.