Review: All Good Men and Thermidor

Both of the Finborough’s current Sunday/Monday shows –  which they bill as “six performances on Sunday and Monday evenings, playing over a three week period, in repertoire with our main show” – are written by Trevor Griffiths, former teacher, liberal studies lecturer and BBC Education Officer from Manchester, turned writer for TV, theatre, radio and film. It’s an impressive set of credentials, especially when you learn of the various awards that pepper his writing career: a BAFTA Writers’ Award, a Writers’ Guild of America Best Screenplay Award, an Oscar nomination for Reds, his film with Warren Beatty. You know, the usual shelf-decorations, just a few trinkets.

Rania Jumaily directs the Finborough production. She is also Artistic Director of The Last Refuge Theatre Company which, alongside the Finborough and Neil MacPherson, is the shows’ producer. As the shorter piece, it runs Thermidor first. Set in Moscow in 1937, Anya (Sophie Steer), a former history lecturer, now widow and mother of three, is called to the NKVD headquarters – the offices of the secret police – to “answer a few questions”. Her interrogator Yukhov (Ben Whybrow) turns out to have been in the audience at one of her talks many years ago. He knows what Anya doesn’t – a warrant is out for her arrest. Amongst the charges of association with Trotsky-ites and other “enemies of the party” is the more dubious accusation of “political short-sightedness”. Can Yukhov improve Anya’s situation? Will he? Is she really guilty? Or a victim of the Russian secret service? “Enemies are no longer people”, says Yukhov.

Running second is All Good Men which, after it began life as a BBC Play for Today, Griffiths adapted for stage in 1975. In the Surrey home of ex-Labour politician and soon-to-be Lord, Edward Waite (David Weston),  TV producer Richard Massingham (Ben Deery) is preparing for televised interviews with the former miner, union leader and MP. Despite ill-health, Waite invites the producer into his home. Waites’ daughter Maria (Sophie Steer) attempts to navigate the rocky road that runs between the ageing Waite and his son William (Ben Whybrow). William, a research student, has been investigating his father’s past in mining union archives and is disillusioned with his father’s public version of his life story. Can Waite’s earliest political decisions really come back to haunt him now, even on the brink of his entrance to the House of Lords? TV man Massingham has a reputation for hatchet-jobs; what are his motives with Waite?

The casting for All Good Men is impeccable – Ben Deery is perfectly suited to the public school confidence of Massingham, while Ben Whybrow and Sophie Steer give excellent performances as Waite’s son and daughter. It’s not that they disappoint in Thermidor, but both seem more comfortable in these two roles. David Weston as Waite is equally strong, and perfectly believable as an ex-mining union leader and ex-Labour politician. Honestly compels me to admit that the intricacies of the background politics do pass me by somewhat, but that does not detract from the push-me-pull-you struggle of this strong-minded, opinionated family and the questions of how and when compromise is good, youth vs, age, and how far revolution can go before it become the status quo.

All Good Men is playing at the Finborough Theatre until 14 May. For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre website.

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