×

Canvas

The slow burn of the exposition-heavy first act of "Canvas" suggests a play a draft away from readiness. Yet the proximity of his three fractious couples on a camping holiday causes friction for them and, finally, fun for audiences.

With:
Alan - Dean Lennox Kelly
Justine - Lucy Montgomery
Rory - Elliot Levey
Bridget - Sarah Hadland
Amanda - Hattie Ladbury
Alistair - Oliver Milburn
Bronwyn - Lisa Palfrey

With many playwrights seeking to draw attention by pushing characters toward extremes of behavior, what used to be called “light comedies” have fallen into disfavor. Michael Wynne is the exception. Like Mike Leigh’s work minus the malice, Wynne’s group portraits come with an intellectually unfashionable warmth. The slow burn of the exposition-heavy first act of “Canvas” suggests a play a draft away from readiness. Yet the proximity of his three fractious couples on a camping holiday causes friction for them and, finally, fun for audiences.

The focus is on Justine (Lucy Montgomery) and Alan (Dean Lennox Kelly), who arrive for a week’s holiday at a farm campsite. Having sent their largely unseen children to their offstage bunkbeds, they begin to unpack their cares with hints of unspoken woes when super-helpful (aka bossy) teacher Bridget (Sarah Hadland) pitches up trailing Rory, her embarrassed sidekick of a husband (Elliot Levey).

This initial bout of comedy coupledom is complemented by the visit of the third family, upmarket Amanda (Hattie Ladbury) and her lothario husband Alistair (Oliver Milburn), who within seconds is making a beeline for Justine.

Jonathan Fensom’s naturalistic set of the interior and exterior of a tent in a tree-fringed, muddy field is cunningly redressed for each family. Their juxtaposition is ideal, since Wynne is really relying on comfortable recognition through which to dissect middle-class life in crisis.

We are, in other words, in a stage sitcom, a sort of Ayckbourn Revisited not unlike his three contrasting couples in “Absurd Person Singular.” Here, however, we’re not in houses but in a campsite overseen by stressed Bronwyn (Lisa Palfrey). But Wynne’s writing lacks Ayckbourn’s dynamic disguising of necessary exposition. His handling of contrasting couples neatly sows the seeds of marital unease — none of these marriages are what they seem — but it takes too long for the drama to flourish.

Given the leisurely pacing of Angus Jackson’s production, the finely balanced cast take the opportunity to flesh out their characters without patronizing them. Wynne is unusual in his generosity with his characters, and only Alistair is more of a deus ex machina than a fully fledged role, a problem glossed over by Milburn’s amusing performance.

Levey’s beautifully controlled performance as Rory winningly unseats expectations. He’s playing a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown but elicits both laughter and sympathy by keeping a tight lid on overt display. Even his tears are swiftly swept away with smiles and near manic determination. There’s equal, compelling restraint from the excellent Ladbury in the penultimate scene, the climactic dinner party at which hostess Amanda almost cracks under the pressure.

That scene sets off the revelations that have been brewing in this slow-cooker of a play. Too few of the preceding ones generate true heat, but although the journey to the optimistic finale may be too predictable, “Canvas” is still amiable.

Canvas

The Minerva, Chichester Festival Theater, Chichester; 283 seats, £29.50 $46 top

Production: A Chichester Festival Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Michael Wynne. Directed by Angus Jackson.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Jonathan Fensom; lighting, Mark Howland; sound, Gareth Fry; music, Grant Olding; production stage manager Charlotte Warner. Opened, reviewed May 24, 2012. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: Alan - Dean Lennox Kelly
Justine - Lucy Montgomery
Rory - Elliot Levey
Bridget - Sarah Hadland
Amanda - Hattie Ladbury
Alistair - Oliver Milburn
Bronwyn - Lisa Palfrey

More Legit

  • Frozen review Broadway

    Broadway Musicians Earn Largest Wage Increase in Two Decades

    Broadway musicians have succeeded in earning their largest wage increase in over two decades. Announced on Wednesday, the Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802 AFM said in a statement that after over four months of deliberations, they have secured a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Broadway League and Coordinated Bargaining Partners to [...]

  • The Kilroys The List

    Listen: New List, New Leaders as the Kilroys Push for Parity

    The collective of writers and producers known as the Kilroys has been pushing for gender parity in the theater for five years now. With the launch last week of the latest edition of the List — the group’s annual round-up (inspired by Hollywood’s Black List) of plays by women, trans and non-binary writers — members [...]

  • Annette Bening

    Star-Studded Cast to Perform Live Reading of the Mueller Report

    Haven’t perused the Mueller report yet? A star-studded cast, including Annette Bening, Kevin Kline, and John Lithgow, can read it to you. For one night only on Monday, June 24, stars will perform a live reading of passages from the Mueller report for “The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in Ten Acts,” Robert Schenkkan’s [...]

  • Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to

    Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to Be This Timely

    When Paula Vogel began writing “Indecent” in 2010, she had no idea how resonant its exploration of immigration woes, anti-Semitism and homophobia in the past century would become in the current political climate. The Tony-nominated play, running until July 7 at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater, traces the theatrical history of 1907 Yiddish play “God of Vengeance” [...]

  • Bitter Wheat review

    West End Review: John Malkovich in David Mamet's 'Bitter Wheat'

    How soon is too soon? Hardly a year had passed since allegations against Harvey Weinstein were made public before David Mamet announced that his satire on the subject, “Bitter Wheat,” was set to star John Malkovich in the West End. Six months later, we’re sat watching a corpulent, super-rich movie mogul — Barney Fein (cough, [...]

  • Batman Julia Roberts Spike Lee

    Batman, Julia Roberts, Spike Lee Among 2020 Walk of Fame Honorees

    Batman, Julia Roberts and Spike Lee are among the names selected to be inducted into the 2020 Walk of Fame. The full list of honorees was announced by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Walk of Fame Selection Committee via an exclusive livestream by Variety. Chosen from hundreds of nominees during a selection meeting in June, [...]

  • Tracy Letts

    Tracy Letts' Comedy 'The Minutes' to Hit Broadway in 2020

    Playwright Tracy Letts’ comedy “The Minutes” will hit the Broadway stage in Feb. 2020. “The Minutes,” written by actor, producer and playwright Letts, is a comedy taking a look at the current state of American politics through the lens of a small, fictional town called Big Cherry. The play is set in a city council [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content