BWW Review: LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL at Goodwood Theatre
Reviewed by special guest critic, Isabelle Zengerer, Saturday 17th November 2018.
Independent Theatre is ending its 2018 season with Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel, based on his own family, in the 1957 adaptation by Ketti Frings.
In the small town of Altamont, North Carolina in 1916, the Gant family runs the Dixieland Boarding House, headed by Mrs. Gant. Mr. Gant runs a stonemason's workshop but is frequently drunk. Their adult children work at the house and in various businesses about town, and the story is told through the eyes of the youngest, 17-year-old Eugene Gant.
Originally a fictionalized version of American novelist Thomas Wolfe's early life, where the author is the 17-year-old Eugene, the book was adapted into a play by Ketti Frings. Having not read the book, I came to the play with fresh eyes and no preconceptions of how the story might unfold.
Independent Theatre's premiere of the play showcases the fine talent of Adelaide's amateur theatre. Director, Rob Croser, Artistic Director of the company, knows his cast well, and has brought to life the world of a hundred years ago where the characters of yesteryear and their problems are still resonant to audiences today.
Will Cox, as the young Eugene, perfectly portrays the naivety of a teenager, the small world he has grown up in made bigger only by the poems he is told off for reading, and the boarder, Miss Laura James, who steals his heart.
Madeleine Herd plays Miss James, a socialite from Richmond, Virginia, who has come to stay at the boarding house. Herd's character balances the innocence and inexperience of youth with the impression she gives to her younger lover that she is wise and worldly.
Bronwyn Ruciak is the loud and nagging Mrs. Eliza Gant who, at first, seems to care only for property and profit. As the story progresses, however, the audience can see that she is simply a businesswoman in a time of men, trying to support her family.
David Roach is the alcoholic W. O. Gant, stonecutter and romantic idealist, whose attempts to raise his children with grand ideas of pursuing their passions are thwarted by the necessities of their small town life.
Jonathan Johntson plays Ben Gant, Eugene's next older brother who gives him advice, and has a secret relationship with the widowed boarder, Mrs. Pert, played by Trish Hendrick.
Malcolm Walton, Pam O'Grady, Louis Henbest, and Ashleigh Meriel also feature as boarders, whose background conversations provide both comic relief and insight into the town gossip that gives context to the Gant family's woes, acting somewhat as a Greek chorus.
Naomi Voortman plays Helen Gant, Eugene's sister who works as the overworked cook and cleaner for the house, and Thomas Chew plays Hugh Barton, her husband.
David Rapkin plays the pivotal figure of the town Doctor, Pam O'Grady has a second role as the town's Madame and old confidante of Mr. Gant, and Louis Henbest has a second role as Luke Gant, the eldest son who returns from the navy to visit the family.
The sets at Independent Theatre are always impressive, and this show is no different. Designed by Rob Croser and David Roach, it instantly creates the feel of rustic rural America, and is lit to great effect by Bob Weatherly.
The costumes are appropriate for the time and each character's social and economic standing, stunningly produced by Sandra Davis. Watch out for the Madame's entrance.
One small thing to note is the use of American accents. It is understandable for the boarders to have different accents in immigrant America, but it would be more cohesive if the family all had the same accent. Intonations are just different enough to be perceptible and slightly pull the focus from the drama unfolding.
Aside from that, it is a wonderful adaptation showing that, throughout time and place, human families are no different, always in some sort of crisis, but having someone to rely upon is what will help us pull through.
Book now before the season sells out as it is only showing for the rest of this week at the Goodwood Theatre.