Mid-life, an insurance salesman who will never be a big enough man to fulfil his big dream. Better to pretend- plan, to deny daily reality in the glow of an imaginary future and sanctified childhood memories worn meaningless by retelling. An anxious wife strives to hold on to her affection; there are two increasingly disaffected teenagers, an uneasy home atmosphere: ordinary failure and banal tragedy. Small wonder that Robert Bolt’s 1957 play was compared to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.



But the comparison does it no favours: Jim Cherry is less self-aware than Willy Loman, and in a way more grimly tragic. Where Loman can reflect “I still feel kinda temporary about myself.. a man has got to add up to something”, Cherry suppresses his awful self-knowledge in drink and bluster, stretching his wife’s tolerance to the point where at one startling moment the neat split set – a sliver of garden alongside the suburban kitchen – sees them momentarily separated, each speaking. He is overacting, declaiming “O for a Muse of Fire!” and saying he has resigned to start an orchard in Somerset. She, outside the back door, is repeatedly praying for strength, just for long enough, for a mere moment of strength to leave him…



It is a wrenchingly sad slice of life, a portrait of the damage wrought by fantasy and bombast. Liam McKenna is Cherry (the part first taken by Ralph Richardson) , fuelled by a kitchen barrel of scrumpy ever more fortified by gin, poring over nurserymen’s catalogues and farm advertisements, chunkily eloquent in his memory and dream of an apple-orchard down West. The blossom, the harvest suppers of bread and cheese and bacon, the strong men, real men… To his modest, bumbling old colleague (beautifully evoked in appearances fore and aft by Benjamin Whitrow, who also direct) he brags about handing in his notice, but cries wolf once too often. At the heart of the play, in a restrainedly fine performance, Catherine Kanter is Isobel, 1950s everywife in a printed pinny, driven beyond endurance by the fantasy and pretences and discontent but in one final, dangerous throw willing to call his bluff and back his vaunted new life.



Whereon, of course, he shrinks back. During the gradual endgame it transpires that his daughter is afflicted by the same tendency to falsity, and his son , driven by the family atmosphere to get out at all costs, longs for his call-up. Into this mix comes the most hard-headed and hearted of catalysts, the daughter’s idolized friend Carol: Phoebe Sparrow wonderfully poisonous, young, calculating, amused, lethal. It’s another Finborough rediscovery, as relevant to the midlife dreamers among us still as to those of sixty years ago.



box office 0844 847 1652 to 20 dec

RATING  four 4 Meece Rating


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