About Time You Saw: The VisitBy Gilly Hopper
Based on the 1956 satirical tragicomedy by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, “The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call”, Tony Kushner (Angels in America) has transported the Swiss dramatist’s work into mid-20th-century America. The Jeremy Herrin-directed play offers a new take on the traditional revenge tragedy, reinterpreted on the Olivier stage as an absurdist American Dream.
Set in the fictional New York town of Slurry in the Fifties, mega-rich Claire Zachanassian (played by Leslie Manville) returns to her tumbledown (bankrupt) hometown. Arriving cheque-book-in-prosthetic-hand – “Clairie” has survived a number of exotic accidents – the world’s richest woman is willing to offer the feeble town a cash-injection to the sum of $1billion. But there are terms; one Alfred Ill (Hugo Weaving) – a former beau who jilted her years ago after she fell pregnant – must meet his maker.
Fans (of which I am one) and those familiar with Tony Kushner’s work will know that he is adept at writing lengthy, weighty plays, but this three-and-a-half-hour production requires trimming. In previews, the show ran at four hours – even with small reductions made ahead of press night, the play still drags in places. Act One is something of an endurance, while Act Two and Three, despite their morose arrowing, appear more buoyant.
Directed by Jeremy Herrin (People, Places and Things), any cuts to Kushner’s writing were likely to have been hard won in a play which serves up joltingly different tones, styles and turgid text passages. The Visit’s life raft is undeniably its stylish leading lady, played by Lesley Manville. An acting class in constancy and containment, Manville is all steel, restraint and high voltage. Managing to wade through the play text’s disjointed dramatics to deliver a vigorous performance, when Manville speaks time patters by without the audience’s knowing.
The townspeople’s dilemma of whether to agree to her ransom binds the drama of the play and poses ethical dilemmas, with themes of cynicism, hypocrisy and greed fervent throughout.
The Visit runs at The Olivier until 13th May 2020