The Theatreguide.London Review
Lyttelton Theatre Winter-Spring 2013
In 2002's Port, Simon Stephens offers a clear-eyed salute to all young people in dead-end towns or dead-end lives who hang on to a spark of ambition or dreams of escape.
It's not a wholly new story that he has to tell, and he may work unnecessarily hard at making his fairly simple point. But Port is honest and engrossing and frequently very moving.
The play is set in Stephens' own home town of Stockport, near Manchester, here made (fairly or unfairly) to stand for all dead-end towns. His heroine Racheal is infected by a desire to get away, even if as a child that merely takes the form of dreaming of a holiday to Disney World or a stay with her grandparents.
But the Florida trip never happens, Grandpa dies, she can't borrow the deposit for a flat of her own, marriage to the first guy who asks proves a mistake, and on and on. Meanwhile the variety of fates among those who settle for Stockport raises the possibility that Racheal may be creating her own unhappiness, but the play's clear admiration for her spirit leaves us little opportunity to think her in the wrong and every reason to hope that her next attempt will succeed.
Except for the vague sense that Stephens is trying too hard and that there's a really good one-hour TV drama somewhere inside this over-two-hour play, Port is an impressive and engaging work, making us care about its heroine, believe in the difficulties she faces, and admire her refusal to be broken by them.
It also makes its larger point, about the limited options open to too many young people, without straining. And it is the occasion for an impressive production and a strong central performance.
Onstage almost continuously, Kate O'Flynn convinces us that Racheal has a spirit worthy of our admiration even when the character makes the occasional false step, the actress also handling the technical challenge of taking Racheal believably from age eleven to twenty-four.
Mike Noble takes her younger brother on a similar journey from bratty kid to criminal adolescent to chastened adult, and Jack Deam and Calum Callaghan register as the man Racheal marries and the one she perhaps should have.
Director Marianne Elliott keeps things moving with cinematic fluidity, and designer Lizzie Clachan employs the Lyttelton's impressive technology without letting this very personal play get lost on its large stage.
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