New End Theatre, Hammersmith Premier. Visiting Mr Green by Jeff Baron.
‘Jewish widower Mr Green, retired dry cleaner, wanders into traffic and is almost hit by a speeding car. Ross Gardiner is the young city executive charged with reckless driving and sentenced to community service, once a week for six months, caring for the difficult Mr Green.
What starts as a comedy, about two people who resent being in the same room together, turns into a gripping and moving drama. Family secrets are revealed, and old wounds reopened, as both men are forced to understand and tolerate their differences.’
This is the copy for the publicity and programme notes for this production at the New End Theatre in Hammersmith. It sounds engaging and tolerance is, indeed, an issue today in many areas. The play is just too gentle to really live up to the sell. I am not saying there should be anarchy on stage but it was not ‘gripping’. It was a gentle rendering of two lives that have been brought together by circumstance. Further, it is relatively dated in its form and content. Unfortunately this is not helped by casting a very English actor to play the American young city executive. If we are to believe they had to come to terms and tolerate their differences then, surely, the fact that Shane Allen who played the part of Ross played it quintessentially English. This very fact was another level of tolerance but it was never addressed. I accept that we can hold our disbelief in a theatre but there is something very different in the English manner to that of the American manner.
Brian Greene never failed to portray an archetype in his stylish and effortless interpretation of Mr Green. Greene was a joy to watch and lifted the play from its touching journey. But the counter-balance for a two hander really did miss the mark. The actors took a little while to settle in. So much so the second act did seem like a different play – it was most enjoyable. However, the over extended exposition really did nothing to warm me to their situations.
Shane Allin looked ill at ease with this role as I believe he may have been battling against too many other things to really get inside the character. It was an adequate performance but never really took off. The ‘pressure cooker’ inside of him never really exploded when it came to his revelation about his homosexuality and the repressed feelings he had kept inside for years. I suppose the contrived nature of the play made the actors make major leaps without real content.
This is a gentle play that has, within it, moments of high tension that could colour and shape the production to greater affect than achieved on the night. It, unfortunately, played on one level for me, and never really touched on the evident nerve of social, political, sexual and religious differences. Visiting Mr Green promised a lot but fell short in delivery.
Gene David Kirk