Susan Stanley-Carroll recommends buying your tickets ASAP
Matthew Forsythe plays all the characters in the play. Picture: Matthew Harvey
“A NIGHT IN NOVEMBER”, now on at the Chiswick Playhouse, is the 25th anniversary production of MARIE JONES’s searingly poignant yet excruciatingly witty and perceptive monologue-drama.
On the first night the studio theatre was sold out for this one-man show that stars the phenomenally brilliant MATTHEW FORSYTHE, playing Kenneth. He was a tour de force as he held the packed audience, by the seat of their pants, throughout the drama.
The main character Kenneth struggles with his national identity as a British Protestant, during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, at the time of the 1994 FIFA WORLD CUP. He works as a Dole Clerk, believes he is happily married to Debrah and all his life has discriminated against Roman Catholics. However, his attitudes change during that “Night in November” when he drives himself and Ernie, his bigoted father-in-law, to watch Northern Ireland play the Republic. Kenneth observes and recoils at the sectarian hatred of the Protestant crowd towards the winning Irish Republic team.
Kenneth is ‘over the moon’ as he has been recently accepted as a member of the local golf club. Whereas Gerry, his laissez faire, good humoured Catholic boss, has been rejected. Friends are invited by Debrah, his wife, to celebrate the event. FORSYTHE nimbly creates the party guests: he darts from battle axe Pauline to Stewart (who revels in ‘a bit of blue’} to the confused couple Brenda and Malcolm returning again and again to pinch mouthed Debrah. It is a treat to observe his perfect timing and pace delivered with panache. His eyes transform in a nano second from, being Debrah the Rottweiler to the bewildered Kenneth.
Matthew McElhinney’s deft, fluid direction, is faultless. He is the son of the writer Marie Jones and was five years old when she wrote the play in 1994.
Garth McConaghie’s spot on ‘effects’ add authenticity: the car revs up convincingly, the flush of he lavatory transports us to the bathroom, and the chanting football crowd makes us feel as if we are in the football stadium rather than a small theatre.
Chris Hunter’s set is simple yet so effective particularly when it twists at the end. I assumed the ‘box set’ was discarded Amazon boxes but if it was, it was well reinforced. Matthew jumps on it vigorously.
Conleth White’s lighting adds depth to the small stage. In fact, one of the audience commented that the stage seemed bigger than usual!
Gradually Kenneth morphs into a re-born man. We participate in this as we are sucked into a kaleidoscope of actions witnessing his journey of self discovery and sharing, through the medium of the monologue, his realisation that his marriage and lifestyle has disintegrated: ‘I am free of them Mick. I am a Protestant, but I am an Irishman.” He is no longer imprisoned by his environment.
AND THEN… When we think it is all over. A stunning finale. The audience, every one of us, rose from our seats like a Hokusai wave… But you will have to be in the theatre to know the outcome!
I feel for all those Kenneths in this world who realise their life sentence is to be stuck in a repetitive job often meaninglessly working for ‘bread on the table’. However, if they break free as our Kenneth did, without a penny in his pocket, what will they do? He found security in Jack’s Army and revelled in the fact that at last he was ’One of the Lads’ and they would take care of each other. As Kenneth sang, “Reaching out, touching me, touching you” from the song ‘Sweet Caroline’ the words have never seemed so good; they resonated and connected the audience with the liberated Irishman on that night in August in the Chiswick Playhouse Studio Theatre.
Tip: Buy your tickets ASAP and revise the lyrics of Sweet Caroline!
‘“A Night in November” finishes on 3 September. Book tickets here or by contacting the Box Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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August 23, 2021