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Exceptional cast labour under the strain of a misconceived play

Review by David Munro

MISCONCEPTIONS is a revised version of an earlier play by David Lewis, Sperm Wars, the title of which sums up the essence of the play.

It is based on the concept that a childless couple seek to save their marriage by DIY artificial insemination only to destroy it.

There is the basis of a serious play in that concept, only Mr Lewis deals with it flippantly and, at times, in very bad taste.

The protagonists, Linda and Mathew, have suffered the loss of a child through Linda's miscarriage.

Mathew believes he is infertile and has enlisted the help of his friend, Barry, to supply the wherewithal to enable Linda to conceive another child.

Being a professor of Biology, Mathew believes this can be achieved at home and the main thrust of the play is based on how this is to be put into effect.

Linda has accepted the situation, albeit reluctantly, and tries with apparent mounting distaste to comply with Mathew’s wishes yet, at the same time, withdrawing from him physically.

During the course of the play, Linda and Barry physically consummate their friendship and Mathew, who is seemingly content at using Barry’s sperm, artificially resents Linda being impregnated physically.

He resumes an affair with a student, Zoe, when Linda leaves him apparently to prove whether or not he really is infertile which, naturally, Zoe resents.

I will not disclose the resolution of this tangled state of affairs in case what I have already written should induce you to go and see the play for yourself.

The first act, where the plot lines are laid, is full of smutty and adolescent humour on the subject of fertility and the methods of achieving it.

This caused offence to a number of last night’s audience, who left the theatre in protest. This is their right, but the second act was far more serious, dealing with sterility and its effects on the fabric of civilisation in general, and marriage in particular and was worth a moments consideration.

What this play would have been like in the hands of an incompetent cast I shudder to think. As it is, Mr Lewis is more than well served by an excellent cast who gave what dramatic meaning there is to his theories in an acceptable and moving manner.

Linda, a part which, in less capable hands, would be a strident and unsympathetic one, was played with consummate art and grace by Jemma Redgrave.

Miss Redgrave proves that she is a worthy member of the famous theatrical family and, on her handling of this character, appears a contender for her aunt's title as one of the great - if not the greatest - actress of our time.

She has presence, an ability to give weight and meaning to the most terrible of lines, an air of serenity, which enables her to dominate the stage even when she is not speaking, and an overall control of her part and the audience which is breathtaking.

She is well partnered by Timothy Walker, as Mathew, who makes a perfect foil for her troubled Linda with his unreasonable, jealous, and tortured character.

He, too, gave a wealth of meaning to what is, in essence, a most unpleasant character and made one feel a sympathy for him which was essential but not inherent in the script.

Barry is a thankless part, in love with Linda and used by Mathew, he is the epitome of a wimp, but Sam Parks gave him a likeable humanity which made his acceptance of his role as underdog understandable.

Zoe, a part which is really a sounding board for Mathew to air his views, only appears in the second act. Nonetheless, Amy Brown managed to give her a personality which, with the lines she was given to say, was quite an achievement.

How much of this is due to the director, Tim Carroll, it is hard to say.

A lot of the peripheral business with files and papers and other paraphernalia was fussy and seemed unnecessary, unless he was attempting to draw the audience’s attention away from the inherent awfulness of the script.

To sum up, a good cast in an unpleasant play can still make the evening worthwhile, as is the case here.

I would like to see them in parts worthy of their talents and expertise but they deserve every plaudit there is for achieving what they did for Mr Lewis.

While this is a difficult play to recommend, it would be a pity if their achievement went unrecognised and, for their sakes alone, I hope this play gets to the West End so they can get the full appreciation they deserve.

But for their efforts, one would have to say that Misconceptions is hopelessly misconceived.

Misconceptions by David Lewis; Directed by Tim Carroll; Designer, Kit Surrey; Lighting, Chris Fenwick; Sound, John Leonard; Fight Director, David Broughton-Davies.
CAST: Jemma Redgrave; Timothy Walker; Sam Parks; Amy Brown.
A Royal and Demgates Theatres Northampton production presented by Greg Ripley Duggan.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Mon, Oct 11 – Sat, Oct 16, 2004.
Evenings: 7.45pm / Matinees: Wed & Sat: 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088

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