An Earlier Heaven

Tue 19th – Sat 23rd November 2013


Anton Moiseienko

at 10:21 on 20th Nov 2013



Pete Skidmore’s An Earlier Heaven is an ambitious production, generously endowed with humour, drama, and compassion. Alas, bringing these precious elements together proved insufficient to create anything more than a merely amusing show. In order to live up to its ambitions – and thus become an excellent performance rather than an average, ‘there’s-something-in-it’ show, An Earlier Heaven would have to be perfectly polished, both in script and in acting. Each joke would have to fit its place (and not be there just for the sake of making a joke), the actors would have to be passionately emotional and yet not cross the line of hysteria (which is a truly formidable task in a play like this, intended to make the audience both laugh and cry!), and the development of the plot would need to keep the viewer intrigued. An Earlier Heaven succeeded on most of these counts, but not all the time. There definitely is something in it. But there could be much more.

The play is centred on Alice, an elderly lady in a coma (Harriet Cartledge). As she lies dying, her family and friends come to visit her in a hospital. They reminisce on Alice’s and their own lives, remember their happy days and grievances, and argue with each other on their future plans. In fact, the play is a collection of monologues and dialogues, tied together by a loose plot. Some of these episodes are moving and irresistibly credible, others are grotesque. Tom Stuchfield deserves praise for his elegant, simple and yet convincing portrayal of Alice’s husband. Mistakenly believed by Alice’s friends to ‘come to terms with her death before the death has occurred’, he crowns the play with his one-sided conversation with his unconscious wife. In contrast, arguments between Alice’s sons are so charged with emotions that the actors seem to be slightly overacting, and some of the recurrent jokes (e.g. discussions with the nurse on the topic of shitting on patients) further alienate the viewer, undermining the credibility of the play and thus its dramatic impact. This effect reaches its peak when Alice’s friends open her eyes so that she could see ‘a nice looking doctor’ and lead all too Wildean conversations on what is the best (that is, most fashionable) illness to die of.

This is not to diminish the talent of the cast or of the director, all of whom did a reasonably good job. While they did fall victim to the complexity of the task with which they were confronted with – after all, they had to do no less than tell a fun and touching story of somebody’s death – An Earlier Heaven is a promising play. Its author’s and actors’ courage and creativity are bound to be rewarded with many future accomplishments, or so I hope. For now, An Earlier Heaven is yet another average play.


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