Writer: Robert Bingham
Director: Joshua Jewkes
Robert Bingham’s new play feels like parts two and six of a period drama, brining the audience into the story just after some important establishment scenes could have taken place and then accelerating to a high emotion conclusion with only the barest information in between. This 75-minure story, playing at the Etcetera Theatre, has a solid basis for expansion but needs to fill in some of the detail to give its characters a greater purpose.
Accidentally cutting her hand during a rough game of catch, Angela is attended by Dr Thomas Tristan, newly arrived from London and filled with empathy for the poor. As the pair spar, brother Jonathan becomes resentful and bitterly upbraids his sister. But soon circumstances change for all of them when the innocent, but forthright Angela crosses the line.
Bingham has a good feel for nineteenth-century behaviours and sentence construction that gives Restless an immersive quality in spite of its representative staging. The actors largely carry themselves in the style of Victorian ladies and gentlemen and there is an authenticity to the scenario that works very well in setting the scene, as well as suggesting the pressures of a wider society with only four actors.
Yet the play accelerates too quickly, glossing over some of the details of Angela and Jonathan’s relationship that would give their behaviour greater context. With hints of the latter’s temper and father issues, there are suggestions of gaslighting and domestic violence that could explain Angela’s fear of her brother as well as the sheltered life she has led, betrothed to a naval officer friend of the family and swept off her feet by the doctor.
Similarly, Dr Tristan’s backstory, the patients he still mourns and his hasty escape from London need expansion, and while Bingham draws the doctor and Angela together, the one sided affection between them needs further grounding to understand why Tristan steps back from her – is it just that he doesn’t love her or is there some darker secret in his past that restrains him?
Marie Drisch plays Angela, the most enigmatic character, a forthright woman in the mould of Marion Halcombe or Lydia Gwilt whose innocence contrasts intriguingly with Malthusian views on population reduction. Drisch develops a good chemistry with Tom Rouvray’s Tristan who tries to maintain his dignity around the strange Ogilvey family completed by Bingham’s angry Jonathan whose own darker side dominates.
Restless has a lot of solid period drama qualities, a strong scenario and a set of characters busting to take up far more room than the play allows them and if Bingham sets his mind to writing the rest of the episodes, they can finally fulfil their potential.
Runs until 27 November 2021