CARS AND BOYS
Stuart Paterson is one of Britain’s most prolific and diverse writers for stage and screen. The author of an extraordinary array of dramas, including adaptations of Chekhov and Zola, he is, perhaps, best known as an award-winning writer of children’s plays; for instance, his acclaimed dramatisation of Kipling’s The Jungle Book proved a huge success for the Birmingham Stage Company between 2005 and 2011.
Little wonder, then, that Paterson’s latest play, Cars and Boys, written specially for the permanent ensemble at Dundee Rep, opened amidst excited anticipation.
Performed in a purpose-built auditorium which sits on the Rep’s stage, the piece focuses upon Catherine, the tough-as-nails, self-made owner of a successful road haulage business, who has been laid low by a stroke. As she flits in and out of consciousness, the fear of death upon her, she is visited, not only by medical staff and loved ones, but also by the ghosts of men who loved her.
The drama reflects the juxtapositions and connections between the physical and emotional realities of Catherine’s condition and the vivid life of her subconscious. It is akin to a soap opera in its realism and quite ethereal in its dream sequences; albeit that the businesswoman’s robust personality cuts defiantly against the unworldly qualities of the live cello music and Lisa Sangster’s quasi-abstract set (which is part-hospital, part-road and part-forest).
Paterson’s writing has flashes of beautiful poetry and some delightfully witty one-liners. However, the play’s deliberately repetitive structure (shifting from the ghosts of Catherine’s past to her real life and back again) seems increasingly burdened, both by a laboured family dispute over the future of her beloved grandson, Robert (played splendidly by young Ncuti Gatwa) and the absence of any real sense of dramatic progression. Consequently, director Philip Howard’s staging – which gains nothing from an ill-considered promenade of amateur hospital visitors – feels somewhat static and considerably longer than its 85 minutes.
The pity of the play’s lack of dramatic drive is that the production is blessed with a fine central performance by Ann Louise Ross. The deserved winner of the Best Female Performance prize in the 2012 Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland, Ross is every-inch the hard working, cigarette-smoking, whisky-drinking small businesswoman, who is as fierce in her non-conformist thinking as she in her insistence that she is not yet ready to die.
At Dundee Rep until April 26. For further information, visit: dundeerep.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on April 16, 2014
© Mark Brown