A Miracle @ Royal Court, London

cast list
Sorcha Cusack, Russell Tovey, Kate O’Flynn, Gerard Horan

directed by
Lyndsey Turner
Amy is a teenage single mother; Gary is a soldier just returned from war and having nightmares.

So when the two meet against the backdrop of Amy’s possessive grandmother, and Gary’s violently domineering father, it seems obvious that the course of ‘true love’ will never run smooth for them.

But with A Miracle entitled thus, and billing itself as ‘a play about wanting a better life’, we are still led to believe that a happy ending will materialise for the pair.

This makes it all the more interesting when we discover that in Molly Davies’ first full length play – the second production in the Court’s Young Writers Festival following Alia Bano’s Shades – this is far from the case.
The dialogue may feel limp at times, but the characterisations are strong and the writing purposely encourages us to focus on these two youngsters before making us realise that the play isn’t only about them.

Amy’s grandmother, Val, ensures Gary, who knew Amy from school and has just returned from war, meets her again, thinking he will be good company as she struggles with a job and her baby. The two, however, form a deeper and sexual relationship, and then plan to run off to Brighton to start afresh, leaving the baby behind.

If the play had only focused on this pair, it might have been a disappointment as a result of the stilted interaction between Amy (Kate O’Flynn) and Gary (Russell Tovey who played Rudge in the original cast of The History Boys). Cast to age, O’Flynn applied an effective raw nervousness to her portrayal of the nineteen-year old, whilst the performance of Tovey, also playing a nineteen-year old but twenty-seven in real life, felt slightly more accomplished but also more stylised. As individual performances they were strong, but the mismatch of acting styles marred the emotional intensity, which only came through in the most intimate of moments between them.

But it was learning about the backgrounds to these characters that made the play so interesting. Gary’s father, Rob, was a pig farmer who lost his farm following hard times. Amy’s grandmother, Val, used to clean for Rob, and now almost gloats at his misfortune. This is because it was Rob’s airs and graces, and determination still to live the high life when money was tight, that saw him lose everything. Now that Val has the chance to be powerful in some small way by looking after Amy’s baby, she is determined to hold onto that advantage at all costs.

With Sorcha Cusack portraying Val as kindly but controlling, and Gerard Horan successfully presenting Rob as a sanctimonious victim, the older actors make us to realise that their characters are not there simply to help us explore the destinies of the youngsters. The play is about all four individuals; each is searching for a better life.

With the play staged ‘in the round’, the set design is effective with earth and turf covering the entire floor. Each of the settings in which the drama takes place (a kitchen, a bedroom or the outdoors) then has its allocated space within the overall performance area.

With Davies successfully misleading us into thinking the play will be a lot more predictable than it is, this is a highly successful dbut from the young playwright. In the end, the miracle required to see all four protagonists achieve better lives never reveals itself (the play ends ambiguously, albeit with some rays of hope), but we learn that in its place, almost entirely unnoticed, another has materialised.

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