The Distance

  • Drama
  • By Deborah Bruce
  • Directed by Charlotte Gwinner
  • Cast includes Michelle Duncan, Timothy Knightley, Charlotte Lucas, Charlotte Emmerson, Daniel Hawksford, Steven Meo, Joshua Sinclair-Evans.
  • Orange Tree Theatre, London
  • Until 19 December 2015
  • Review by Tom Aitken
  • 1 December 2015
The Distance
4.0Reviewer's Rating

When this play was premiered at the Orange Tree in October 2014 described as ‘an amazing evening’. This remains the case as it returns with a largely new cast for a four-week run. This is a serious and thought-provoking play that for most of its running time is side-splittingly funny, switching between altercations in which neither side listens to or understands the other and moments of relatively quiet reflection.

I don’t recall any other play in which so many people spend so much time shouting each other down to so little effect.

The situation is that Bea has walked out on her husband and two young sons in Melbourne and fled to England. Her situation is mysterious. Her family and friends and we in the audience are all in the same position of difficulty. We do are never quite certain whether she knows exactly what she wants or has only a very misty idea.

In London she meets family members, none of them willing to accept that she offers acceptable justification for her actions. She asserts that she did not feel right with her husband and sons and must therefore look elsewhere to find fulfilment. After all, had she died suddenly, her husband would have had to bring up his sons alone and would have made a very good job of it. So what’s the difference?

Of the family, Kate in particular, has no concerns about Bea’s abandoned husband. Her firm conviction is that sons should be with their mother. Only Bea can care for them properly. Therefore Bea should have established her legal right to take them with her and then done exactly that. Kate is furious and uncomprehending when Bea says they are better off where they are.

The play consists principally of one-to-one or one-to-two arguments, with occasional more crowded and riotously noisy scenes. The mental hoops they all jump through trying to convince each other have the audience helpless with laughter. But there is never any sense that this is mere social comedy or a purely farcical treatment of a serious subject.

The ending may well come as a surprise. I’m not giving anything much away when I say that it looks as if there might be some sort of resolution, but we have no idea how it might be achieved––let alone whether it will be a happy one.

Anyone who has ever felt that they are stuck in a situation that they cannot usefully influence or amend will know pretty well how Bea feels.

This is not to say that that this is in any way a grim play. The assumption underlying what we see and hear, is that children, if helped properly by those who are looking after them, whoever they may be, will adapt to unconventional situations and survive them. And it will be better for everyone in the long run if mixed up adults manage to sort themselves out.

If you missed this play last time don’t repeat the mistake.


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