The Meeting, Minerva Theatre, Chichester
Even a theatre as culturally literate as Chichester will occasionally indulge in a hint of prime time TV.
So Charlotte Jones’ new Sussex play fleetingly succumbs to its own bare chested Poldark moment, which set the pulses of audiences racing.
In this case, it is Nathaniel Burns (Laurie Davidson) who removes his shirt to demonstrate just how hot and tiring his apprentice role as stone mason is.
He’s followed by master mason Adam Young (Gerald Kyd).
This is a play which sizzles with sexual energy – but not through the crass exposure of flesh but the sheer quality of the plot and the acting.
Davidson may be something of an Adonis but he is also an actor of rapier precision – conveying in one glance in his opening appearance his desire for Young’s wife Rachel (Lydia Leonard).
And Leonard is more than a match for him – dovetailing desire, repressed guilt, and a desperate need for purpose in a shrug of the shoulders.
Jones’ play - ten years in incubation – is not, of course, about sex at all.
Launched in Sussex’s premiere theatre, it is rooted in her experiences of Sussex Quakers and their meetings - set for artistic purposes 200 years ago during the Napoleonic Wars.
Theirs is a life of peace, equality and understanding and how these core principles are sorely tested by a young army deserter (Davidson) when he takes refuge in their community and abuses the hospitality he is shown.
If the acting and the storyline are compelling – so too is the sensitivity with which the Quaker life is explored.
There is no better example of all this than Jean St Clair’s immaculately understated performance of Rachel’s mother Alice – who is profoundly deaf and struggles to find her voice.
How appropriate it is that the closing scene belongs to her.
The 2018 Chichester Festival started with a few stumbles. Now with Me and My Girl and The Meeting it has found its stride and has broken into a run.
4 out of 5
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