Review: Walden, Harold Pinter Theatre

Gemma Arterton and Lydia Wilson both do well but Walden isn’t the strongest new play to hit the West End

“We have to act happy”

First things first – Sonia Friedman’s RE:EMERGE season, re-opening the Harold Pinter Theatre with a programme of three new plays is a brilliant one. Its a visionary take on theatre ownership and one can only hope that it inspires similar boldness elsewhere as the tendency towards the safely tried and tested will surely abound as theatreland looks to find its post-pandemic footing. 

And following on from that, there’s also a strange pleasure in seeing a play that I wasn’t particularly keen on and saying so, a sense of returning to normalcy (as opposed to the contortions pulled when everyone had to pretend Sleepless in Seattle the musical was the brave new hope last summer…). So for me, despite a dreamy cast including Gemma Arterton and Lydia Wilson, Amy Berryman’s Walden wasn’t the one.

It’s a highly ambitious, highly wordy debut, smashing together larger ideas about resource management and space travel with more personal notions of personal ambition and sibling rivalry. Arterton’s Stella and Wilson’s Cassie were both groomed to follow in the footsteps of their famed astronaut father but it is Cassie who is returning from a year on the moon where they grew something for the first time.

Stella’s NASA life didn’t quite work out so she’s now living with an ecowarrior called Brian and when the twin sisters are finally reunited, all kinds of tensions are brought to the surface. Trouble is, there’s just too much here to exvacate. The near-future setting is full of potential which doesn’t really get explored, the equally hinted-at-but-under-explored love triangle aspect eats up running time but thankfully doesn’t come to much, etc etc.

Ian Rickson’s production is undoubtedly well performed but it left me cold. I just didn’t really care about anything that was going on and that, my friends, really shows that theatre is back! 

Running time: 105 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Johan Persson
Walden is booking at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 12th June

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