First performed at the National in 1978, Plenty receives a welcome revival at the O’Reilly this week. It’s an intriguing character study principally about Susan Traherne, who was a Special Operations Executive courier in the Second World War, but latterly living with a sense of frustration in a post-war life of lessening excitement and increasing disillusion, as the wife of a diplomat. Hare presents her fascinating story non-linearly, so there is a challenge to the audience to pick up on the events and fix the chronology with the clues in the text. The clever use of the O’Reilly space and some interstitial sound hints help the audience, as do vague memories of 50’s history (just when was Suez?).
Grainne O’Mahoney tackles the challenging part of Susan brilliantly, capturing her attractive personality and her battle with mental instability with a mesmerising performance. She is supported by strong performances from the gifted Aoife Cantrill as her friend Alice, a promiscuous bohemian-type, and Andrew Dickinson as Susan’s luckless husband Brock. Dickinson captures the yin to Susan’s yang perfectly, and he’s not the least bit wooden in his important first scene.
The rest of the cast can be equally satisfied with their first night performances. George Varley and Shrai Popat, as Foreign Service diplomat Darwin and fawning colonial Aung respectively, use their comic timing to good effect as Hare trawls through some racial prejudices, and Archie Thomson ably captures the sense of incomprehension in Mick, a working-class black-marketeer whom Susan seduces. We see little of Lazar (the solid Will Yeldam), a mysterious SOE agent, as he only encounters Susan in the dark in France and Blackpool, but he adds significantly to the narrative. Emma Brand, Isobel Jesper-Jones and Dom Pollard support the principals highly competently with their minor roles. It’s undoubtedly a strong cast and the production team do a very good job in presenting the play. It must be an interesting project for them.
Plenty continues at Keble until Saturday 14th February. Go and see it; you won’t be disappointed.