Weekend Breaks

Aug 13 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩   Carefully honed

The Royal Scots Club (Venue 241)  Mon 11 – Sat 16 Aug 2014

Arkle Theatre Company’s accomplished production of John Godber’s Weekend Breaks probably gives more care and attention to the material than it deserves.

Brian Neill as Len in Weekend Breaks. Photo: Rob Chields

Brian Neill as Len in Weekend Breaks. Photo: Rob Shields

Recently separated Martin is holed up in the Lake District, trying work on an unfinished screenplay. He has the bright idea of inviting his parents Joan and Len to visit him, partly to make up for refusing to accompany them on their annual Spanish holiday. Unfortunately, his parents don’t seem to like the Lakes much. Then again, they don’t seem that keen on their son. Or anything, really.

The structure of the play is a little awkward, with the story of the weekend supposedly being told by Martin as a stand-up routine. This fails to convince, and suggests a lack of confidence in the material.

The concerns of the script – the middle classes don’t know how to have fun, older people are happy to ‘make do’ – seem little more than platitudes and are never really explored.

The character of Martin, as a result, comes across as little more than an ungrateful snob completely lacking in self-awareness, and it is to the credit of Dug Campbell in the role that he makes him as sympathetic as he does. He manages to give the character some warmth and suggest at least a measure of inner conflict, but it is still difficult to care too much about what happens to him.

His parents, meanwhile, are never more than sketchily drawn. The reasons why they are so bitter, yet unwilling to face up to their situation, would have made a very interesting play, but such a play never arrives. Instead, media lecturer Martin keeps telling us that it is ‘like Beckett’ or ‘like Chekhov’ when it really isn’t.

buckets of gumption

Joan just comes across as a curmudgeon, but at least Mary Blackford plays her with a twinkle in her eye and buckets of gumption. Len is the most rounded of the three characters, and Brian Neill responds to this with a performance of subtlety and care.

Director Jill Baxter deals extremely well with a performing space that is entirely bare save for three chairs (and at one point, a bed). John Weitzen’s subtle lighting and Jane Purves and Craig Robertson’s sound echo this care.

There is an attention to detail and to verisimilitude that is extremely impressive. However, there is the nagging feeling throughout that a production which threw realism out of the window and instead went completely over the top might be a more appropriate response to the source material.

After all, it is difficult to be subtle with some of the material here. For example, apparently the Spanish resort ‘Mijas’ sounds just like ‘my arse’ – as in ‘it’s lovely up Mijas’. If you miss that rib-tickler the first time around – don’t worry, it makes another three appearances. The fact that you are not tearing your hair out fourth time around shows that there is at least a high level of sincerity and honesty in the performances here.

Running time 1 hour 30 minutes (no interval)
The Royal Scots Club, 29-31 Abercromby Place, EH3 6QE (Venue 241)
Mon 11 – Sat 16 Aug 2014
Daily at 18.15
Tickets from edfringe.com/whats-on/weekend-breaks
Company website www.arkletheatre.co.uk


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