“What’s your earliest memory…?”
The first show of 2011 for the Finborough Theatre is The Potting Shed, a Graham Greene play from 1958. A psychological drama about a man, James Callifer, estranged from his dying father and struggling to make sense of gaps in his memory from his teenage years at the family home. For as James delves deeper into his troubled psyche, long buried family secrets threaten to bubble to the surface, beliefs questioned, indeed the very nature of religious faith is brought to bear as James edges ever closer to the truth of what happened in the potting shed from which the play takes its name.
This production ran in the Sunday/Monday slot late last year and has been promoted to a full run, managing to hold onto all but two of the original cast. Part of the 3 month RediscoveriesUK season at the Finborough, dusting off little-performed shows from all over the UK, the programme unearths great little snippets like the fact that this particular play hasn’t been performed in London for 40 years and leading that production was none other than Cliff Richard. Unfortunately that was about as interesting as it got for me, as this was not a play that really engaged me at all.
There was something to admire in Eileen Battye’s brittle mother and 25 year old Zoe Thorne’s precocious 13 year old Anne but the acting was solid rather than outstanding for me, and given that most of the cast are used to this space, there were some surprisingly shouty performances. All in all though, I just did not find this to be a believable set of characters with too many secondary ones who only appear for part of a scene and a central family that I had little interest in seeing work through their issues, no empathy was built up in any of the relationships. The grand revelation when it comes was a strong scene with particularly good work from Martin Wimbush as a priest struggling with a crisis of faith, but it was then undermined by a misjudged second interval which led into a very underwhelming short final act.
Ultimately, this just wasn’t the play for me, I just found it dull. Clearly the Finborough have seen something in it, good enough to warrant bringing the show back, but I did not believe that this was a good enough play to really deserve a revival but more importantly struggled to see what it has to say to modern audiences.