Review – The Grapes of Wrath

Oct 13 2009 | By More


Edinburgh King’s Theatre: Mon 12 – Sat 17 Oct 2009
By Thom Dibdin

PLUNGING deep into the dust of depression-era America, this touring adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel still succeeds in keeping its feet firmly in the modern world.

It’s difficult to begin to comprehend the plight of the Okies – the Oklahoma farmers thrown off their land in the years when America’s bread basket turned into a dust-bowl.

At first, the story of the Joad family and their long flight to California seems to be of a completely distant era. Perhaps it is the grinding poverty they have to endure or their dull, farm-labourer clothes which give the whole production a black-and-white feeling.

By the final scene, however – when the family have lost everything they own yet recently bereaved daughter Rose of Sharon (Rebecca Night) still provides succour for a man dying of starvation – the production has succeeded in getting over the distance of years.

To be fair, the first hint of relevance to the here and now comes early on. Irascible Tom Joad (Damien O’Hare), out of prison on parole, returns home to find the family has been forced from their land not by the climate or the failure of farm techniques. It is the banks who have done for them.

Later, as the Joads head out West, big Technicolor advertising hoardings beam down – mocking them with a vision of comfortable modern cars, of sleeping while the train takes the strain and of “The world’s highest standard of living”.

The story, of human resilience faced with ever increasing hardship, is told in this thoroughly satisfying production with more than a hint of humour. But you soon realise that the jollity is only there to make the Joads’ downfall all the worse.

The big company is well cast, while the technical side of the production makes inventive use of the lighting and design to let the story slide along.

Where it does slip is in the emphasis director Jonathan Church gives to the different Joads. This is very much Ma Joad’s journey as her menfolk fail her and Sorcha Cusack certainly provides the living heart in the role, as the young men leave or are left behind and the old ones die or get themselves killed.

The one man who does need to start with a sense of permanence is Pa Joad. Yet Christopher Timothy never gives him enough presence to make him stand out from the general chatter around Tom’s return.

This lost emphasis apart, it is near perfectly played. Oliver Cotton stands out from the ensemble in all the right ways as fallen preacher Jim Casey, who provides the play’s moral foundation.

A truly tragic and epic tale, told with just the right balance of realism and suggestion to entertain and leave you reeling at mankind’s worst instincts.

Run continues to Saturday 17th October.
Box Office: 0131 529 6000


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