Directed by Michael Attenborough who is clearly looking to throw the light on lesser known playwrights here in the UK, Clifford Odets is regarded as a modern great and as important as Eugene O’Neill in the development of modern drama yet arguably remains relatively unknown here.
Awake and Sing is set in the Depression era and following the fortunes of a Jewish family living in the Bronx, it centres around the huge matriarchal figure of Bessie, played by no other than Rizzo herself, Stockard Channing. She keeps her family close around her but they are a motley crew: her husband is a depressed failure, her father is a revolutionary dreamer, her son is disillusioned with life and her daughter has got herself knocked up. In economically incredibly difficult times, Bessie has to make tough decisions to secure the future she desires for everyone, even if it means over-riding their own wishes and desires.
I know serious theatregoers would never admit to this, but as the first opportunity I’ve had to see her live on the stage, I had been extremely excited to Ms Channing, having admired much of her interesting film work over the recent years, and of course The West Wing. And she did not disappoint with a passionate performance of huge depth, pulling us with her even as she makes Nigel Lindsay as a smitten neighbour and Jodie Whittaker’s unruly daughter are also excellent, but this is Channing’s show, carefully showing us that it is the circumstances that forces her to do unpalatable things, rather than her true nature.
It was particular fun to see Zoë Wanamaker in the audience, watching Channing in the role that she played recently on Broadway, but I did not have the balls to ask her what she thought of the performance compared to her production!
So a great night out, a wonderful chance to see an actress I might never have otherwise gotten to see perform and an interesting look at a playwright unfamiliar to me. His combination of the larger public and political issues whilst never losing sight of the personal and domestic sphere, the prism through which his writing is given true heart and meaning, marks him as someone who really ought to be better known in the UK.