(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/24; Photo: Pamela Rabe (left) and Eryn Jean Norvill in The Confessions. Photograph: Christophe Raynaud de Lage.)
National Theatre, London
Alexander Zeldin’s profoundly moving play grew from his parent’s reflections, which he uses to conjure an epic struggle for love and freedom
A reluctant protagonist stands at this drama’s centre: Alice, diminutive and white-haired, enters before the curtain is raised to insist: “I’m not interesting.”
She becomes bifurcated into young Alice (Eryn Jean Norvill) and old (Amelda Brown). But for all the diffidence on her part, writer and director Alexander Zeldin knows exactly what he is doing and why he is doing it. He spent time recording his mother and her peers to create this tight, searing sweep across a generation of women who fought to make themselves seen and heard. The result is a drama that captures heart and mind, brimming with emotional delicacy and quietly dazzling in its ambition.paper, Alice’s life might perhaps be deemed uninteresting, beginning in Australia in 1943 and involving a move to Britain, one bad marriage and another good one. We see her shelved ambitions to become a writer and her struggle towards a self-fashioned freedom within the bounds of her time.
There are snapshots rather than the full chronology: the nervy first meeting between boyfriend Graham (Joe Bannister) and her parents; a car crash dinner party some years into her marriage with him; the evening she meets a poet and realises she could be living a different life.
These life-changing moments unfold in kitchens that are conspicuously constructed on stage. Zeldin is Paris-based and this play feels distinctly European in its sensibility and style, not only in its deftly psychoanalytic exploration of the mother and child bond but also its Brechtian elements.
There is a constant dismantling of the set and blurring of art/life boundaries but remarkably, even with these distancing techniques, we are drawn closer to Alice. Yannis Philippakis’s musical accompaniment brings its own booming, bass, depths and it enters our body just as drama seems to do.