The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds

March 21, 2019 | By | 1 Reply More

★★★☆☆    Inexact science

Hill Street Theatre: Wed 20 – Sat 23 Mar 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

Arkle’s production of Paul Zindel’s The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds at the Hill Street Theatre is an uneven but ultimately fulfilling exploration of angry insecurities and brittle dreams.

There is an entire generation who recall Zindel fondly, as (along with Judy Blume) he was the champion of Young Adult fiction before YA was even a thing. He started off, however, as the author of this play which, despite winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1971, is mostly remembered either for the Paul Newman-directed, Joanne Woodward-starring film version – or for that defiantly unwieldy title.

Wendy Mathison and Sinead Gray. Pic: Arkle

The play itself shows early evidence of Zindel’s skill in creating believable teenage characters, with two sisters – shy, introverted would-be scientist Tillie and more outgoing but less stable Ruth – who are bullied by their mother Beatrice. Beatrice is the play’s main focus, and she is a horrendous creation – disappointed, misanthropic and directing her self-loathing outwards at all around her.

Despite this, there is a tragically lyrical side to the play, along with something that approaches humour without ever quite getting there. Imagine a missing link between Tennessee Williams and Mike Leigh and you will have some idea of the tone.

The odd atmosphere of the piece – half realistic, half exaggerated – is never quite resolved in a production that gets a great deal right but lacks overall coherence.

The accents, performances and props suggest the action has moved to a more contemporary Scotland, but we are still definitely in 1960s small-town America, complete with its school principals and science fairs.

clever utilisation

Director Sian Fiddimore makes imaginative use of an unusually configured performance space, with clever utilisation of discrete acting areas. However, as a result there can be a fragmented feeling to proceedings, which is not helped by some needlessly lengthy gaps between scenes.

Ruby Leslie. Pic: Arkle

On occasion, a striving towards naturalism has the opposite effect – for example, a scene played largely by torchlight may be both realistic and atmospheric, but it is also very difficult to make out. This is doubly unfortunate, as Rob Shields’s lighting is otherwise excellent.

Although Wendy Mathison’s Beatrice takes a little while to warm up, she manages to find a deep inner sadness. However, this means she does not quite convince as the monstrously vindictive side of Beatrice, which removes a great deal of the play’s momentum.

What is thoroughly believable is the relationship between the two sisters. Sinead Gray’s Tillie is an admirable depiction of a painfully self-conscious figure, outwardly browbeaten yet possessing a deep-seated belief that beautiful things can flourish in unpromising surroundings.

Ruby Leslie’s Ruth – whose brashness conceals frightening insecurities, and whose insults towards Tillie mask genuine protectiveness – is even better.

Truth

The two of them share an ability to inhabit the characters physically as well as vocally, which gives their interactions a truth that is not always present elsewhere. The fourth character, the elderly lodger Nanny, is famously silent throughout her appearances on stage, and while Elsie Horobin’s portrayal is well judged, Beatrice’s hatred towards her does not quite ring true.

Sinead Gray and Elsie Horobin. Pic: Arkle

The odd choices made at time in this production are symbolised by Tillie’s pet rabbit, which is loathed by her mother, not least for being a ‘manure factory’- and it has to be said that the droppings look considerably more real than the rabbit in this case.

However, despite such oddities, elements of this production tap into a deep well of humanity that gives it an appropriately bittersweet edge and considerable emotional pull.

Running time 1 hour 15 minutes (no interval)
Hill Street Theatre, 19 Hill Street, EH2 3JP
Wednesday 13– Saturday 16 March 2019
Daily at 7.30 pm
Tickets: http://www.arkletheatre.co.uk/buy-tickets/
Arkle website: http://www.arkletheatre.co.uk

Wendy Mathison. Pic Arkle

ENDS

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  1. Anne Chalmers says:

    This was a really excellent production by Arkle. Wendy Mathison was just amazing, a really complex character done justice.
    Sinead and Ruby who played the daughters were also very polished and well cast. Elsie who plays Nanny was a scene stealer at times, so funny. Highly recommend the production.

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