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Review: Wilderness, at Hampstead Theatre, Downstairs

Anna Ledwich’s play about a warring couple is uncomfortable viewing but compulsively watchable

11 April, 2019 — By Howard Loxton

Natalie Klamer and Allison McKenzie. Photo: Robert Day

HOW do you tell your child that mum and dad are divorcing? “We won’t love you any less… and we won’t argue. Daddy won’t be living here any more… so you’ll have two bedrooms!” That’s Joe and Anne trying to explain things to eight-year-old Alistair at the start of Kellie Smith’s play.

Everything is supposed to stay very amicable between them, but as Lucy Sierra’s set is already suggesting they are entering a warzone. It is a painful picture that anyone who’s been through it will recognise.

Anne’s life seems centred on Alistair (who never appears, the audience take his place), who at birth had seemed dead, only when she held him did he start to breathe. Natalie Klamar makes Anne obsessive and frantic, talking too fast to wait for answers while Finlay Robertson’s Joe seems at first more laid back, though that is hiding resentment. He sounds from a much posher background, brought up to suppress feelings, but as the situation increasingly threatens his new relationship he can’t contain them.

 

Neither of this pair is especially likeable as they compete for Alistair’s love (and our sympathy). It becomes increasingly evident that what they present as for their son’s best interest is to satisfy needs of their own. Even the tolerance of Joe’s new partner Stephanie (Allison McKenzie) gets exhausted.

Anna Ledwich’s production has a metaphorical edge to its realism and some wry humour that saves it from turning too melodramatic. This is a situation in which everyone ends up a casualty. It’s not comfortable viewing but compulsively watchable.

Until April 27
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