Review: CANOE *****

THEATRE

CANOE

thespace@surgeon’s hall venue 53

August 3rd to 11th, then 13th to 25th. 21.05

***** Five stars

One man walks on to the stage in shorts, carrying a small rucksack containing books.

This man (writer and performer Matthew Roberts) proceeds to create whole worlds of past and present on stage before us. He begins as Tom, an ex-military guy who has been the partner of David, a ground-breaking children’s author, for twenty years. It is the eve of a funeral, and relations between the two are not at their best.

It is a time of great distress. There are few greater distresses for a person than to have a child pre-decease them. Tom and David adopted a son, Andrew, who is now 24 and has arrived with his baby son. There were two other children whom Tom and David had by surrogacy, saw being born, and who have both died, aged nine and eleven, on an adventure holiday, in a canoe. Tomorrow is the funeral.

This sounds like it must be a deeply depressing theatrical experience, but it is anything but that. This is down to the immense subtlety and range of Matthew Roberts’ script, together with his extremely versatile and expressive acting. Plus the books – those that fall out of the bag, and which Tom reads from, as he did to the children. He brings the audience into the action of responding to the reading as the children would have done.

He also moves between acting as Tom and as David, as well as Andrew, takes us through the adopting of Andrew, and makes us aware of the horror of the reaction on twitter to the deaths of these children of gay men, which is as harsh as you may imagine

Yet the effect of this show is a very positive one, as it conveys the deep love these men had for their children, and their ambition to have this family, and the knowledge that the experience they have had of the children is something they will have for ever.

The play’s impact and success owes a debt to director and dramaturg, Struan Leslie, though principally to the wonderfully committed, fluent and athletic acting of Matthew Roberts. Being at a performance of this play is an experience to be treasured, and it richly deserves a large audience.

Tony Challis