The Last Yankee
‘Not bad, but not good either’ seems to be the only ‘psycho-moral paradox’ in this production, writes HANNAH MIRSKY.
Corpus Playrooms, 7.45pm, 15th -19th January, £7/£5
Directed by Brenda Cottis
Perhaps I’m being a little harsh. The Last Yankee isn’t a bad show. The set and costumes are appropriate; the acting is neither expressionless nor overblown. There’s nothing about it that particularly riled or confused me. It’s just – flat. Uninspiring. A bit… meh.
The play follows the visits of two husbands to their wives in a mental institution in 1990s New England. It’s been put on by Bawds, a Cambridge amateur dramatic society unrelated to the university – for once, on the Corpus Playroom stage, all the actors are the same age as their characters.
That isn’t, however, the most significant difference between this production and the student theatre that goes on around Cambridge. Until now, I’d never seen a show in Cambridge that failed simply due to lack of ambition. The very worst student productions are those that aim for something extraordinary, and catastrophically miss the mark. The only thing this show aims for is to deliver the lines written in the script.
This is not to say that the delivery is plodding or unrehearsed. The actors are well cast, and they make the characters individuals. Christine Stewart deserves a special mention for giving the most dynamic and nuanced performance as Patricia Hamilton. Yet all of the actors – particularly the men – seem to have decided how to play their character, and then not vary that characterisation at all. Each exchange finds its pitch, and stays there.
This is particularly noticeable in the first scene, in which the two husbands wait to see their wives. Colin Lawrence as John Frick, a self-important businessman who hasn’t yet come to terms with his wife’s illness, doesn’t succeed in displaying any anxiousness or unease behind his arrogant exterior. The character keeps trying to explain away his wife’s depression – ‘I thought maybe…’ – but Lawrence delivers each reason in the same offhand tone. It becomes simply a list. David Foyle’s performance as Leroy Hamilton is similarly un-nuanced: a moment that should be an explosion of rage feels oddly held back and muted. The performances are not inappropriate, just undeveloped. Exchanges rarely seem to go anywhere.
I felt, at points throughout the show, that the play was trying to say something – about America, about marriage, about mental health. Yet this production never attempts to draw out any of these themes. In the hands of these actors, the play becomes an almost indulgent series of conversations in which two middle-aged couples endlessly rehash their own feelings.
The advertising for The Last Yankee promised me ‘psycho-moral paradoxes’. I’m not entirely sure what those are, but I’m fairly certain there aren’t any in this production. This isn’t a bad show, honestly. It’s just that it’s not a good one either.