On Monday this week I was lucky enough to be invited to review the production of Moira Buffini's play at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford.
Gabriel was Moira Buffini’s first stage play. It contains all the elements familiar in her subsequent work: humour, symbolism, dramatic tension and a concern with political and humanist morality and justice.
The setting is Guernsey during the Nazi occupation in 1943, when fear and isolation from mainland Britain led to a need for traumatic decisions by the small population, dominated in the ratio of one-to-one by the occupying force. Forced to collaborate by selling food on
A family left without their menfolk, Jeanne Becquet, her young teenaged daughter Estelle and her daughter-in-law, Lily, are preyed upon by Major von Pfunz. Their spirited attempts at self-defence are shown to be puny in the face of his power as the occupier. Estelle vents her anger and the frustration they all feel, with rebellious challenges to von Pfunz’s face, small acts of personal sabotage upon him, and an attempt to invoke the supernatural against him.
When Lily finds and brings home to nurse a man on the point of death, who has no memories of his identity and speaks English and German equally fluently, Estelle names him Gabriel, like the angel, believing her symbolic rites have worked.
The cast is very strong. Belinda Lang is magnificent as Jeanne, her cutting remarks and desperate insolence dominating the first half of the play. The character of Estelle is equally powerful, excellently portrayed by Venice van Someren as teenage angst writ large and focused in rebellious tantrums and a wild belief in the power of good to triumph over injustice.
Paul McGann manages to transform his appearance and stage presence into the unattractive, complex and ultimately evil von Pfunz, to the extent that he is virtually unrecognizable from his screen reputation in Withnall and I and Dr Who.
As in all Buffini plays, there are moments when the characters discuss the morality of their situations. The dogmatic, merciless attitude of diehard Nazis towards ‘inferior races’ is exposed by von Pfunz’s description of Lily (‘a cancer in your family’) and his definition of war as ‘force versus chaos – law no longer applies’ are chilling and apt in today’s global crises as they were in WWII.
This is an enjoyable and thought-provoking night at the theatre, well worth seeing.
This review is also published on the Essential Surrey website,: http://www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre-arts