11 May 1995, Thursday
Death in a closed climate
By Kate Bassett
Orange Tree, Richmond
The double act of playwright James Saunders and Sam Walters, the artistic
director of the Orange Tree, continues to bear fine fruit, more than 25
years after they met. Now aged 70, Saunders has newly scripted an arresting,
probing play about grief and guilt.
Matched in craftsmanship by Walters's staging, Retreat is a subtly
disturbing drama of confrontation and comforting between a middle-aged man
and a young woman, both bereaved and dangerously shaky.
After her parents die in a plane crash, Hannah (Victoria Hamilton), appears
unexpectedly at the isolated cottage of her parents' friend, Harold (Tim
Pigott-Smith), who killed his wife and handicapped his daughter in a car
Hannah, in a state of acute vulnerability, seemingly seeking Harold's
avuncular shelter, grows assured as his chronic stress surfaces. They grill
each other on their parallel histories with a fierceness that might destroy
or cure; alternately crippling or caring; attacking and attracting;
defensively private and then confessional.
The play doesn't quite build to its violent climax and occasionally Harold's
lines sound overwritten. Pigott-Smith might ease these out a shade more
conversationally. But this is already a production full of absorbing
understated acting. Pigott-Smith, softly shambling in his homely cardigan,
takes long slow sniffs of his malt whisky while boiling with repressed
bitterness. Hamilton is riveting as Hannah. She might be a soiled angel set
on redemption or demonic action. Her dark eyes follow Harold everywhere,
maybe adoring, maybe predatory. Her instability, equally upsetting and
threatening, is encapsulated in a clutched cushion or the scratching of
nails round her cut-crystal glass.
(Submitted by Tara)