David Hare’s study of a family dominated by a theatrical matriarch is a measured and occasionally poignant piece of drama. That’s not always such a good thing though. After two hours in a character’s company, after witnessing them lose pretty much everything of import in their lives, I want to be emotionally drained, at the very least I want to be rooting around in my handbag for tissue, I shouldn’t be thinking “hmm, that was handled in a subtle and measured fashion.”
Directed by Peter Hall and starring Felicity Kendal as Esme, the charismatic and apparently carefree West End actress, the production reeks of class. Hare’s play is a layered affair, detailing not just Esme’s complicated relationship with her daughter Amy, but also examining the moral shifts of the 1980s, especially the clash between the world of the theatre and that of the media (film, television, journalism: basically everything that’s not theatre, rather stuffily lumped together).
Split into four acts, covering the years 1979 -1995, the chie problem with Amy’s View is that it tries to say and do too much; it’s often rather didactic in tone which undermines the play’s true point of interest the relationship between Esme and Amy slowly unfolding before us.
Amy’s husband Dominic is a difficult and unlikeable man, who in the opening scene is an ambitious young writer but as he becomes more successful, a television producer and then eventually a famous filmmaker, he casually casts aside his earlier dreams and wishes. It is through this character that Hare raises the theatre vs. media debate, unfortunately this sturdy but unexciting production makes you guiltily agree with Dominic when he explains all the reasons why theatre doesn’t do it for him. This is a highly conventional production, not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, though the play is only ten years old, it feels like a revival of a much older work.
In the second half, when the meat of the mother daughter relationship is revealed, and we’re finally given something we can connect with emotionally, things pick up. But it’s too little too late. The final scene where Esme, having lost her daughter, her home and all of her money (via a dodgy investment scheme) sits in her dressing room, looking achingly fragile yet somehow resilient, should floor you. But the tears don’t come.
What elevates things are some strong performances from the cast. Felicity Kendal is fine, giving a solid, unflashy performance in a role made famous by Judi Dench, but it’s Ryan Kiggell who really stands out as the determinedly unpleasant son-in-law, resisting the urge to soften his character’s hard edges yet making him curiously pathetic in the process. Antonia Pemberton is also strong as Evelyn, Esme’s elderly mother-in-law, so full of vigour in the early scenes, whose mind and body grow more fragile as the years progress. The usually reliable Jenna Russell is the weak link however, never really convincing as daughter Amy, a complex, conflicted character; and her much talked about ‘view’ that love is all that matters, that if we just love enough everything will be OK, never really comes across.