National Theatre: Port – Performance review

Star rating
***
A fantastic lead character takes you on an interesting journey,
but the drive of the narrative means it lacks some heart

Kate O'Flynn (Racheal Keats) and Mike Noble (Billy Keats) (credit Kevin Cummins)

Kate O’Flynn (Racheal Keats) and Mike Noble (Billy Keats) (credit Kevin Cummins)

Port marks another National Theatre collaboration between playwright Simon Stephens and director Marianne Elliott. Based in Stockport, the play moves through two-year periods in lead character Racheal’s life – spanning from ages 11 to 24, with each of the eight scenes providing a snapshot of where her beginnings in Stockport have taken her.

The earlier scenes work best: Racheal and her brother Billy sitting in a hospital canteen doing their homework as they await news of their dying Grandad, reveals the damaged relationship between Racheal and her father, and the appearance of her father’s rather creepy friend, known as the local flasher, provides an insight to the realities of Racheal’s upbringing. It gives you just enough information to understand the context without slowing down the pace.

The biggest jump, in terms of story, comes between Racheal working in a supermarket as a teen, to a New Year’s Eve party where, now in her 20s, Racheal’s  fiercely jealous and violent husband is first unveiled to the audience.

While the gritty scene between husband and wife was engaging, it felt as if there was a hole in the context. There were many moments of quiet at the start of this scene, which were most likely intended to display the tension between the couple, but having not known anything about Kevin before this scene, the quiet almost felt like first-date awkwardness: not at all where the scene heads. The need to move the story on seems to mean skipping some important emotional landmarks in Racheal’s life.

What was most enjoyable about Port was Kate O’Flynn’s performance – she managed the difficult transition from an excitable 11-year-old nattering non-stop to her mother to a 24-year-old damaged divorcee, with unfathomable ease. At no point did I question the realness of her character. O’Flynn made Racheal likeable and human – you don’t empathise with Racheal out of pity, but out of the sheer boldness of her character. Mike Noble’s Billy also contains a similar warmth and complexity.

Port presents some interesting issues through real, unshiny, lifelike characters you might even recognise from your hometown. But for me, personally, a really good play is one which stays with me on the journey home: when I wonder about the characters and what might of happened to them … I can’t say I felt this way about Port. Perhaps a few more moments where the audience could get inside the heads of the characters a bit more, rather than tracing the narrative, would have brought some more heart to this journey.

Port runs at the National Theatre until 24 March 2013. To find out more information, or to buy tickets, visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/port

Rachel Creaser is the editorial assistant for Teaching Drama. 

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