Fulham's Brand New Theatre Delivers Again

Revival of Eugene O'Neill's comedy Ah, Wilderness is a treat, says Penny Flood

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Fulham’s new theatre above the Eel Brook pub has delivered again. Following on from the smashing Ordinary Days they’re putting on a Eugene O’Neill comedy, Ah, Wilderness.

O’Neill was one of the greats of American drama and it’s a treat to see this revival.

Ah, Wilderness is the rites of passage story of Richard Miller (Hal Geller), a 16 year old boy who is beginning to discover there’s more to life than his family let him think. In fact thinking is the last thing they want him to do.

He’s a great reader and has discovered Wilde and Shaw (a "bigamist" and a dangerous leftie, according to his mother) along with Keats and Shelley, and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which quotes prolifically, muchto his mother’s horror. The title of the play is taken from a line in the Rubaiyat.

More than just comedy, it gives us a glimpse of life in an ordinary Connecticut family, the Millers, on the 4th of July at the beginning of the 20th Century. 

It’s not just Richard whose life is on the cusp, change is everywhere as his heavily corseted mother (Bronwyn Baud) and aunt Lily (Debbie Terry) try to maintain the old puritanical values while coming to terms with new ideas and freedoms as the children, Tommy (Jack Badley) and Mildred (Molly May Gardiner), won’t do as they’re told, and the men get drunk.

Richard’s in love with Muriel (Stacy Sobieski) the girl next door. Her dad Dave (Will Timbers) doesn’t approve so Richard, encouraged by his brother Arthur (Joel Arnold), decides to go off the rails. This  results in a hilarious encounter with Belle (Amy Berk) when he discovers there’s a lot more to girls than his parents have told him.

Alongside the main story there are entwining subplots, the gentle, sensible head of the family is Nat Miller (Tino Orsini) who runs a newspaper which needs advertising. This is given a twist as Dave is a big advertiser. Aunt Lily has lingering feelings for family friend Sid (Harry Reeder) which adds a "will-they-or-won’t-they" intrigue to the action. Look out for Reeder’s terrific performance as a drunk staggering home after the BBQ.

It's an ambitious production with a very professional cast who give exemplary performances with good comic timing. Full marks to the production team especially Brandon Force whose tight direction prevents the set piece comedy scenes descending into farce.

It’s only on until April 19, which is a shame because it deserves a longer run, so if you want to see it, get your skates on.

London Theatre Workshop is at 65 New Kings Road. Tickets, priced £12, or £10 concessions are available online.

Bronwen Baud introduces Ah, Wilderness at London Theatre Workshop Fulham

Star Bronwen Baud introduces Ah, Wilderness on YouTube.

April 11, 2014