“So the night recedes too, until at last it must die and join all the other long nights in nirvana”
So Ruth Wilson is a god amongst mere mortals, you all know that right? Probably one of the most exciting actresses working at the moment, Hollywood has now come a-calling and she should surely have been a shoo-in for Doctor Who if she were so inclined (although given her inimitable excellence as the devilish Alice Morgan in Luther, perhaps she is destined to be the next regeneration of the Rani…) and so her return to the stage in any shape or form is something to celebrate. And in The El. Train, this triple bill of Eugene O’Neill one-act plays, her artistic wings fledge even further as whilst she appears in the first two, she makes her directorial debut in the third.
Wilson has form with O’Neill of course – her Anna Christie at the Donmar was rightfully hugely lauded and she slips right back into the groove perfectly. She effortlessly holds the stage as the busying Mrs Rowland in Before Breakfast, struggling to make ends meet whilst her feckless husband languishes out of work, ballsily confident whilst yelling at him from the kitchen and sneaking guiltily satisfying sips of grog from the cupboard. Likewise in The Web that follows, her ability to conjure the most intensely felt of emotions at the drop of a hat is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to witness, especially in the intimately historical surroundings of Hoxton Hall.
Dramatically, it has to be said there’s few surprises here though, especially to those familiar with O’Neill’s work and the most intriguing of the works is the final one, The Dreamy Kid which eschews the instant hit of tragic melodrama for something more interesting, more involving, which Wilson teases out well with excellent performances from Simon Coombs and Nicola Hughes. Hughes’ magnificent voice (recently on display in The Color Purple) is utilised throughout as she sings jazzily original songs as interludes, accompanied by a flawless band whose work does so much to conjure up an ambience of gin-soaked desperation and delight.
And the sense of atmosphere is where The El. Train is most successful – Richard Kent’s design uses the shape of this old music hall well and combined with Neil Austin’s smoky lighting and sound design from Alex Baranowski and Andy Hedges, manages to brilliantly evoke the sense of location in a design triumph. Altogether, it is a classy kinda joint to wander into, the pop-up bar selling specially designed cocktails and the overall feel is just right. Still, it feels hard to justify ticket prices of nearly £50 (once booking fee has been added) for something that’s not even 90 minutes straight through and in cramped, unreserved, uncomfortable seating at that. But look for the cheaper tickets, any chance to see Ruth Wilson should be taken whilst you still can.