“It’s very peaceful…”
It’s often that the mind thinks to compare Peter Gill with Simon Stephens but sitting through the former’s self-directed new play As Good A Time As Any in the surroundings of the Print Room at the Coronet cinema in Notting Hill, one couldn’t help but wonder what a different director might have made of it. The playtext for Stephens’ Carmen Disruption allows for, even actively encourages, directorial innovation, offering up a world of theatrical potential (in this case, ingeniously realised by Michael Longhurst) but there’s little of that imagination spilling forth from Gill.
Which is not to denigrate the quality of the writing here, which has a hypnotically compelling quality that transports its naturalism to a higher plane. The play consists of eight women sharing their everyday thoughts in all their banal humdrumness, divided into five choruses that break up the rhythm and interweaving with each other to demonstrate that no matter how different we think we are from the person across the street, the stranger sat opposite on the tube, the seatmate in a never-changing waiting room, we’re all pretty much the same, thinking pretty much the same thoughts.
A simple premise it may seem but it is powerfully, profoundly, explored here, beautifully eloquent in expressing the different struggles that people in articulating the true depths of their own truths, whether the pain of the loss of a child or a loved one, troubling divorces or painful pasts – the crippling fear of loneliness underscoring so many of the revelations that finally come to light as the monologues wind their way to the point that they need to make, in order to show they’ve survived and by extension how we can survive too.
Gill’s staging doesn’t quite match to the writing though, the women group themselves differently around two back-to-back rows of chairs for each iteration of the chorus but there’s little movement besides, little sense of dynamism infused into the production that doesn’t stem from the linguistic feats being achieved by these actors. Bruce McLean’s abstract design hints at what can come from pushing conventional boundaries a little but whilst I can’t help but wonder what another director might have brought to the production, there’s no doubting the classic quality of what is before us here.