Peterson

Tue 15th – Sat 19th November 2011

reviews

Rebecca Loxton

at 00:56 on 16th Nov 2011

0agrees

5disagrees

Peterson is billed as a ‘modern fairytale’. It is quirky and interesting but occasionally plot and dialogue are to be found wanting.

The play charts a brief episode in the life of Abel Peterson, a lonely middle-aged man who lives in the house on the top of a hill, isolated from the rest of his village by physical location and by emotional temperament. Wendy, the teenage daughter of two of Peterson’s former friends, begins to pay regular visits to the top of the hill to visit Abel.

Allusions are dropped throughout the play as to the whereabouts of Peterson’s wife, who does not make an appearance on stage. Explanation comes at the end: his wife has been imprisoned for murdering a pupil at her school. The story is inexplicable yet somehow darkly convincing; what is less plausible is that this harmless, placid man would have married a psychopath who revealed herself to be capable of infanticide.

The innocence of the relationship between Peterson and Wendy, who spend their time together watching the news, eating cake and playing chess, provides a refreshing contrast to the story of Peterson’s absent wife.

Two characters appear at intervals to represent the voice of the villagers, casting aspersions as to what is being concocted in the house on the hill. The scandalised voice of rural England is well-conveyed by the two actors, who at times speak directly to a member of the audience, as if engaging them in their conversation. Lighting is used to great effect to divide the stage into three separate sections, as the two villagers appear under a spotlight at opposite ends of the set.

The problem with Peterson is that a large part of the dialogue between Wendy and Abel, which makes up a large part of the action of this short play, does not capture one’s attention. Abel’s inexplicable obsession with a newsreader dominates their meetings, and seems to be little point or direction to this narrative thread. The play could have been improved by focusing more intently on the fact of Abel’s loneliness, of the suspicion and contempt with which the villagers view him, of the difficulty of Wendy’s position once an unlikely friendship has blossomed between the pair.

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Ksenia Harwood

at 12:15 on 17th Nov 2011

1agrees

1disagrees

Matt Fuller’s ‘Peterson’ is an endearing meditation on isolation and rumours, which essentially portrays the blossoming friendship between the local scapegoat Peterson and a sympathetic teenager Wendy, who manages to see beyond the damning image attributed to him by the village mob psychology.

However, despite the interesting premise, this play is a case of the actors pulling off what is a rather incomplete plot. The show opens with Abel Peterson, magnificently played by Thomas Olver,

sitting on the stage as the audience comes in. From the very first scene Olver gets the audience on his side, as he manages to strike a delicate balance in conveying insanity-always slightly unsettling but never over the top.

Peterson’s senile charm is perturbed by the speculations of his neighbours, played by Lizhi Howard and Fen Greatley. They reveal that Peterson may or may not have been involved in a murder committed by his wife, which adds a disturbing dimension to the seemingly harmless protagonist. Both villagers appear under a spotlight in complete darkness, which cleverly extends the idea of confinement, positing both as living within their own bubbles. The contrast between the two is entertaining, as the actors aptly represent their respective stereotypes- while Lizhi is a picture of parental exasperation and emotion, Fen pulls more than a few laughs from the audience with his colloquial gossip.

The crux of the story, however, is the relationship between Wendy and Peterson, in which lie the main strengths and weaknesses of the play. While Wendy (Caitlin McMillan) is every bit as impressive as the rest of the cast, there seems to be something lacking in the development of the characters’ relationship. Wendy

jumps from an amusingly careless ‘get-me-out-of-here’ attitude of her first encounter with Peterson to a fiercely protective, if not motherly, affection for the man and the audience is left gasping for more explanation. Likewise, the overarching mystery of the murder is never explored in sufficient detail. There is no unsettling ambiguity that suggests Peterson’s guilt, and the denouement feels rather jumbled. So, instead of the question ‘did he or didn’t he?’ the focus seems to fall on the villagers’ scorn of Wendy and Peterson’s friendship. An anticipation of drama arises, as it seems to fall prey to public opinion, yet this tension is not

developed to a conclusion either.

Overall, ‘Peterson’ would have benefitted from being a longer production. It is definitely worth seeing for the quality of the acting, yet one gets to the end of the play feeling like too much has been left unsaid. Instead of letting the intrigue slide, it would have been nice to see the two threads of the story come to a more

twisted resolution. The cast could have certainly pulled it off.

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