Review: Giving, Hampstead Downstairs

“There seem to be a lot of people out there with a lot of money who don’t quite know what to do with it”

I’m pretty sure that in 30 or so years time, we will be talking about Sinéad Matthews with the hushed reverence accorded to the likes of Dame Judi as she’s surely a shoo-in for a similar ennoblement. And I’ll be telling everyone about the times I got to see her in the intimacy of the Hampstead Theatre’s downstairs space. Last year saw her star in the The Wasp and this year she returns there in Hannah Patterson’s Giving, directed by Bijan Sheibani, giving us another opportunity to see one of the finest actors in the country up close and personal. 

She plays Laura in Patterson’s new play, a journalist tasked with profiling leading British businesswoman Mary Greene for her current affairs magazine. Greene is of interest because she has decided to give away huge amounts of her wealth in a newfound burst of philanthropy. But as Laura investigates further, she finds that there’s a whole industry that’s grown up around giving, organisations who act as brokers between the millionaires and the charities, and its these motives that she decides to interrogate, regardless of the consequences.

It’s a fascinating topic and one which Patterson writes about intelligently, probing into the morality of whether giving is always good, if such gifts can be tainted and whether that matters to the recipient, and the extent to which these intermediary bodies interfere with the process. Matters are complicated by Laura’s personal relations too, and Matthews excels with all three of her co-stars. Whether butting heads with Sylvestra Le Touzel’s brusque Mary or dancing around the niceties of her affair with married boss Jonathan – the ever-charismatic Dominic Rowan – she’s on fire.

The most interesting of her relationships though is with Simon Manyonda’s Michael, Mary’s “charitable giving adviser”, who immediately provokes her personal and professional interest, further complicating the picture as journalistic ethics are concerned. Sheibani keeps Giving on a taut rein throughout and so the production is always pacey and feels very much of the minute. Lucy Sierra’s traverse design is slick (I want a table like that!) and evocatively lit by Joshua Pharo, providing the ideal backdrop for Matthews’ excellent work. You should go along so that you too can say you saw her before she became as celebrated as she deserves. 

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 11th June

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