I can’t remember the last play I saw with two intervals. Some Shakespeare thingy I expect. Not that I can justify two ice creams so we took a box of sliced mangoes that makes me wonder if I’ll ever nail my green credentials.
This play – The Visit – is a translation and is set post war in small town America that is on its uppers, everyone just about fending off, if not starvation then bankruptcy. The opening set – as is often the case at the National the set is a fabulous moving feast – is Slurry, NY railroad station as four old boys await the arrival of the richest woman in the world who happens to have been born and brought up in Slurry and left many years before. These four, like the whole town have hopes – hopes that some of the wealth of this woman will be sprinkled in their direction.
It’s not a great opening if I’m honest, not when you know there’s another 3 hours and lots of loose change still to go. It’s monotone, monochrome, mostly exposition and repetitive. Looking back I think they could have squeezed the twenty minutes into less than ten with clever writing and editing. Still on we went. More townspeople arrived and then did the woman in question – Carrie. Her butler, who turned out to be a Supreme Court judge she had bought with her fabulous wealth – a recurring theme -stopped the express – which we knew from the interminable explanations no longer stopped at Slurry – by pulling the emergency cord. And to show how easy the heiress was with the dosh she bought off an aggrieved driver with a bung of 20,000 greenbacks. The townsfolk were soooo excited.
The rest of the first act was all about how she’d had a teenage affair with the local stud muffin, now married with two kids and running the town store. There was some reminiscing, some more back story about how she’d lost several body parts in getting to be where she was today and then a town meeting where she offered to make the town and its denizens richer than they could imagine with one billion little green drinking tokens. On one condition….
That’s where the first act ended. It had been a bit of an effort to get here, in truth and it felt like we could have made it in half an hour less.
But after that, acts two and three moved on. The condition – too much of a plot spoiler to say – was all about revenge, about what happens if you bear a grudge and then find you have the wherewithal to do something about it, about desperation and the power of money, about the power of the collective, about who, when an appalling request is made is to blame for it, how group think can justify almost anything.
There was wit and twists, there were some absurdities and comically surreal moments that added nothing to the plot and may have something to do with the cultural norms on which the original version was based. But whilst I’ll admit to a few micro naps in that first act, I remained engrossed from there on. It still dragged at times, even latterly. Some of it felt a bit like a cod psychologist had inputted into some of the scenes, so unlikely were they.
But I came out thinking about it and not about whether I could justify some cheese when I got home, knowing that it would be about 11 pm and that is a bit late for cheese, even in my world. That makes the play okay in my book. Not the lack of cheese, the consequent thinking…
I doubt many of you will go along, but do if you can. Lesley Manville in the lead is good. Not excellent because the material and her need to hop and hobble with her many amputations means the opportunities for quality acting are curtailed by the requirement to mimic a mobile pretzel. But she and a huge cast did well. Well enough anyway.