Being a huge enthusiast of LTC’s recent offerings, I was incredibly excited to see this theatre company’s production of Jez Butterworth’s The River. Having seen the play performed before at the Edinburgh Fringe festival I was already aware of the fact that this play is simply a masterpiece. It is piece that demands great attention to detail, subtlety and strenuous hard work if it is to be successful in any way. Unfortunately, this production struggled to display the sheer work required in bringing this play alive, however this was because it was so effortlessly brilliant.
The set was impressive and well placed. The light from the window at the beginning of the play was not only visually pleasing to the eyes, but it was a small detail that aided in allowing the audience to enter the world that Butterworth has dramatized. The placement of the seating arrangements helped prevent the actors’ movements across the stage from appearing unnatural and forced. Not that this was required in any way, the set really assisted in placing the action in this world, one in which we are completely engaged in for the whole one hour and fifteen minutes.
To put it plainly, Jack Whitmore was stunning. He was so convincing in his characterization, it was impossible not to believe that every line he uttered was coming from his character’s mouth and not from the actor’s. It is rare for any student stage to witnesses a performance where it is so difficult to find a fault in it, yet this is certainly one of them. Not only did he command the stage, he balanced the strengths and weakness ‘the man’ in a way that made it seem easy. When required, he conveyed heartache, self-hatred, and loss without even moving his face, which convinced me how perfectly cast he was. Whitmore is certainly an actor to keep watching out for in the next few years.
Olivia Ballantine as ‘the woman’ was also a pleasure to watch. Her character does not seem to have massive amount depth at the beginning of the play, and the subtlety of her acting portrayed this with justice. This allowed her to convey the more cutting and emotional elements of ‘the woman’ in later scenes. Her chemistry with Whitmore was more down to earth than Yasmin Jones’ as ‘the other woman’, which made it so easy to sympathize with her character at the end of the play.
Indeed, Jones portrayed the captivating essence that was required from her character. She had a glint in her eye where you had no idea what she’ll do next. This is so difficult to portray as an actor as it is so hard to place what it is you have to do in order to be successful at it. Although at times some of her lines felt slightly forced, any arguable flaws in Jones’ performance were absolutely forgivable. Shockingly, this is her first play in DST and she deserves all the credit she shall inevitably receive for her performance.
This play’s worst enemy is pacing and the potential for it to be boring. Director Tom Wills crushed this possibility with what seemed like no strain at all. There is a three-minute section where Whitmore prepares dinner whilst listening to music and for that whole section the production evoked energy and stole the audiences’ complete attention. The sounds effects and use of music throughout were well chosen and assisted in creating the overall tone of the play. However, it would have been satisfying to have music playing in the background as the audience entered. For me personally this play reminds me of lyrical songs like ‘The Riverman’ by Noel Gallagher. This not only demonstrates how much of an individual reaction an audience can have when witnessing this play, but convinced me that more music, like the songs that Wills had playing at times during the play should be present before the action unfolded. It could place the audience into the right mood before experiencing this play.
This is a very personal play. Whilst having a smaller audience can add to the exclusivity one may want to feel when witnessing this piece, the fact that this production so easily brings to life Butterworth’s genius means that it demands seats to be filled. Not once did an actor even hesitate when delivering a line, which was a perfect example of how confidently the cast brought to life a script undeniably needs to be performed. Wills’ choice of bringing this play to DST should be more than highly appreciated, and one can only hope he shall bring something else to our society in the upcoming years. This version is only going to be around for three performances in Durham and not seeing it means missing a chance to witness something that could change the way you perceive love, romance, and loss. Wills should be proud to put his name to this production, just as an audience should be grateful to watch it.