EmptyDonmar Warehouse, London
Through May 31
LONDON -- Peter Gill's play "Small Change," a tale of two men's boyhood friendship and their missed opportunity for love in a working-class area of Wales in the 1950s, has evocative moments but is rendered in a singular voice and becomes too dense to be engaging.
Written in 1976 and revived under the playwright's direction at the Donmar Warehouse, the play features four characters with four chairs on a bare stage. Two mothers and two sons address the audience, painting pictures of harsh times when poverty strikes minds as well as bellies.
Poor and stifled by lack of education and opportunities, neighbors Mrs. Harte (Sue Johnston) and Mrs. Driscoll (Lindsey Coulson) raise their respective boys Gerard (Matt Ryan) and Vincent (Luke Evans) with absent husbands, a strict church and diminished expectations.
Gerard and Vincent play together and go to the sea and the nearby locks where danger lies, and together they dream of better places. Playwright Gill jumps forward and backward in time as the boys banter and the adult men reflect on the different paths they traveled. Their mothers speak of daily strife, shared hardship and dashed dreams. At one point, the two women dance together in a moving reminiscence.
The imagery drawn by all four characters is done cleverly sometimes, but their language and tone of voice are the same, and it all comes out sounding less like characters than writer Gill's own memories. The women's exchanges have flavor, but the males are virtually inarticulate when speaking to each other, only to become effusive in addressing the audience.
Changes in time often are abrupt, and the descriptions become confusingly detailed. The fate of the women is touching, but the men appear too docile to be affecting. It's difficult to imagine that their lives would have been much changed if they had expressed the love they felt for each other.
It's also hard to see why the choices they made are much different from a pair of heterosexuals who later on in life ponder what would have happened if they'd become lovers. It might be interesting, but not in itself dramatic.
Playwright-director: Peter Gill
Set designer: Anthony Ward
Lighting designer: Hugh Vanstone
Gerard: Matt Ryan
Mrs. Harte: Sue Johnston
Vincent: Luke Evans
Mrs. Driscoll: Lindsey Coulson