Review: “Wit”

DAVARA BENNETT is quickly convinced it’s ‘clear that here is good, very good theatre’.

Jennifer Boon Katie Alcock

Tuesday 23rd – Saturday 27th, 7.00 at the Corpus Playrooms.  £5-6.

Directed by Katie Alcock and Jennifer Boon.

The man behind the information desk looked crestfallen when I told him I was reviewing and conspiratorially, if impoliticly, proffered the information that only one ticket had sold. Sure enough, the audience-members rattling around the corpus playroom sized each other up, extracting moleskins from inside pockets and I spent an enjoyable moment guessing which of them represented Varsity. Producer Callum Wood should have requisitioned some poster-bitches: I know because I’ve been one, and we sell tickets.

I needn’t have worried about kicking a play when it’s down. It soon becomes clear that here is good, very good theatre. Katherine Alcock is fearless as English Professor and cancer-patient Vivian Bearing, conveying her egoism, her pedantry and acidic irony but also, always, her humanity, which is continually tested by the treatment she receives at the hands of her doctors. The play is on the whole pretty depressing, but don’t let it put you off. The character’s sharp self-awareness prevents it becoming too hard to watch: the humour throughout is enjoyably sardonic. Bearing’s speeches on the Holy Sonnets are magnetic, especially, though not only, for admirers of Donne – you can easily tune them out, as Alcock’s physical acting alone reveals the disturbing face of academic fervour, looking away from the reality of mortality. We can occasionally puck out ominous phrases from the doctors’ background mutterings. Micah Trippe is also good as the doctor: his pretentiously hybridised accent and nasal breeziness make him the perfect insensate prick. Less credible is Laura McDonald’s nurse. The sincerity of her simple compassion towards the dying patient is meant to forgive its “maudlin display” – it doesn’t quite. Also less effective was the flashback scene in which Professor Bearing regresses to her precocious child-self, since the product is neither child nor professor but rather a grotesque parody of both.  However, all my fault-finding cannot diminish my enjoyment of this thought-provoking production: I strongly advise you to fill the empty seats.