Knuckle

by David Hare

Directed by Val Whitehouse

4th - 8th May, 2004

The Tower Theatre performing Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate

 

Cast List

Curly Delafield : Simon Bullock
Jenny Wilbur : Chantal Kennedy
Grace Dunning : Anne Connell
Patrick Delafield : John Cornwell
Max Dupree : Callum Walker
Barman/Storeman/Policeman/Porter : Tom Tillery

 

Production Team

Director : Val Whitehouse
Set Design : Alan Root
Lighting Design : Robert Irvine
Sound Design : Colin Guthrie

Stage Manager : Claire Christy
ASMs : Moira McSperrin, Terry Baker-Self, Nigel Martin, Rosalind Moore
Lighting operator : Rachel Hindley
Sound operator : Alex Lanipekun
Wardrobe : Peter Westbury, Martin Brady
Wall hangings: Keith Brewster
Set construction : Alan Root, Keith Syrett, Sue Lacey, Keith Hilll, Andy Hind & members of cast and crew



Review by Colin Smith


The original production of Knuckle had impeccable credentials : Edward Fox and Kate Nelligan directed by Michael Blakemore; but I came away confused by its drift. What sort of genre was it meant to be? Why was this low-life skulduggery with more than a hint of gangsterism in the heart of an imperturbable G. and T. belt like Guildford? Until then for the most part this type of setting in the theatre meant the amiable clichés of light comedy in which gracious actors of a certain age uttered pleasantries and smiled benignly on juveniles' romances, when not gently chiding the servants for their loveable eccentricities.

A naïve response indeed, though it was widely shared at the time. What we were failing to realise was the dawning of what might be called a second New Wave - the first one having occurred years earlier with Look Back In Anger. Subsequently David Hare has made explicit what some of us failed to grasp.

"It's based on the idea of re-setting an American thriller in the deepest Home Counties of Southern England ... One or two critics were kind enough later publicly to admit that they'd misjudged the play on first viewing. But there's no doubt that the whole venture of producing a play which attacked the capitalist system in a West End theatre had a symbolic significance." Hare goes on to explain that "it is organised around two types of British Capitalism: the paternalistic kind with its old social networks and its spurious moralising, and the new aggressive, shameless variety which would gain such ascendancy in the 80s". Technically he now regards its construction as clumsy, with too many scenes and too many of them set in the same places (Hardly a problem thirty years on : a recently admired Fringe piece boasted no less than 93 scenelets!)

So within the framework of a materially comfortable Home Counties setting we encounter Curly, a roughly spoken, smart-arse type of individual, something of a Robert Mitchum update from RKO's classic films noirs. Searching obsessively for the facts of his oddball sister's disappearance and presumed death, he checks out her friend and acquaintances as well as his father. Here Simon Bullock - despite battling with laryngitis - invested the lead role with laconic menace and gave meaning to Curly's intransigence by a combination of scepticism and defeatedness. He detailed the shabby consumerism and hypocrisy that he unfolded with an exhausted air; and his tempo seemed oddly to dominate the other characters, to some degree.

As Jenny, Chantal Kennedy conveyed the concern that was needed about Sarah's disappearance, but might have shown more professional astuteness as an experienced night-club hostess. Callum Walker's Max was volatile enough to score as "not quite one of us" in the Guildford social spectrum, moving from threats to near panic.

John Cornwell as Curly's father gave a sense of controlled unease behind his bluff, ex-officer persona - not perhaps the conventional smoothie notion of a merchant banker who doesn't handle anything so gross as actual cash. His domestic partner Grace Dunning (Anne Connell) combined household cares with specialised personal attentions - a wry cameo of self-possession. The various walk-on parts - barman, storekeeper, policeman and porter - were covered dextrously by Tom Tillery.

The wide stage of The Gatehouse suited the range of locations that this play demands, and Val Whitehouse's direction aided by Robert Irvine's lighting exploited this with effective positioning, neat exits and entrances. Though David Hare decries his early stagecraft, this production made his fears superfluous.