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Ah, Wilderness!

Published 22 April 2015

What’s it all about?

This is Eugene O’Neill as you may not have seen him before, and I mean that in two ways.

1) This little performed piece shares parallels with O’Neill’s famous blistering Long Day’s Journey Into Night – it’s an equally intimate snapshot of one family’s life set over the course of potentially life-altering hours – but instead of intensity there is a compelling lightness, a dose of youthful passion, familial warmth and, while you couldn’t really call it a comedy, plenty of laughs.

2) Throughout the action, as lovesick teenager Richard softly tests the boundaries of his parents’ trust and Uncle Sid gets raucously drunk while long-suffering spinster Lily watches on heartbroken, a tense man pays witness to the family dynamics, nervously taking notes and mouthing the lines.

Only director Natalie Abrahami could confirm this, but my guess is this is O’Neill himself, watching his characters play out their fates on Dick Bird’s arresting sand dune design.

Who’s in it?

George MacKay leads, giving a brilliantly impassioned performance as a teenage revolutionary; spontaneously sprouting poetry that makes his mother blush, writing ‘raunchy’ love letters to the girl next door and looking shocked when his father reveals he too has read Carlyle’s The French Revolution, the worn book he carries around with him like a security blanket.  

He is agitated, sulky, physically awkward and everything else a lovesick teenager should be, completely at odds with his conservative parents in rolled up Levi’s and messy hair. But if you’re going to be a rebellious teen these are the parents to have, with Janie Dee enormously likeable as an anxious but exuberant mother and an imposing Martin Marquez as his warm father.

What should I look out for?

The sand. Whether it’s to represent the passing of time in this tale of youth or just to enable some of the stunning scene changes, it makes for addictive viewing as the actors eat from tables dusted in sand, let it fall through their fingers in moments of thoughtful silence or fall drunk into its grainy bed.

Watch out for a pivotal scene when Richard recovers from his first night ever on the razzle. His clear declaration that alcohol doesn’t make him happy is both simple, profound, hopeful and a touch tragic in light of Dominic Rowan’s waster character Sid.

In a nutshell?

The Young Vic is transformed into a sandpit for Natalie Abrahami’s quietly stunning production of Eugene O’Neill’s uncharacteristically light family drama.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@revstan Lovely start to a big week of theatre who’d have thought Eugene O’Neill could be funny and charming thanks @youngvictheatre #ahwilderness

@DonaldHutera Ah, Wilderness! @youngvictheatre: sandyslattedtendercomicfamilymemories; GMackay freshflushedpretentioushonourableyouth, JDee maternalanchor

Will I like it?

This is undoubtedly not O’Neill’s finest play but such is his poetic, passionate and, in this case, warm writing that you will find yourself completely carried away watching this family’s Independence Day celebrations. Capturing that complex, awkward and exhilarating moment between youth and adulthood, Abrahami’s production is a stunning snapshot that had me completely compelled.

Ah, Wilderness! is playing until 23 May. You can book tickets through the Young Vic website.


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