It’s an odd experience to come in from the snow, only to find that it is snowing inside, but this is the experience shared by last night’s audience at the Almeida’s new production, Period Of Adjustment. While snow falls in the Islington venue’s auditorium, a Christmas tree twinkles in the corner of Mike Britton’s set and Ralph Bates (Jared Harris) watches Christmas Eve television while sprawled on a sofa with a beer in his hand. Matthew Amer had a strange feeling of déjà vu…
Christmas, apparently, is one of the boon times of the year for arguments. The tension, the expectation; it all gets too much for some. So quitting your job and getting married during the festive season seems like a disaster in the making. Still this is what the new Mr and Mrs Haverstick have done, and, not content with that alone, they have journeyed to see one of George’s old war buddies Ralph.
When Lisa Dillon’s prim and proper new wife Isabel, dressed as a young, innocent middle-class girl should be in a red skirt suit, is abandoned with Ralph, who she has only just met, it is clear the Christmas tension has become too much. Bates, a tender man of the world, assures her that she is just going through a period of adjustment.
All is not well in the Bates house, though, which happens to be built over an underground cavern into which it is slowly slipping; the large crack running diagonally through the bisected house is testament to the not entirely stable foundation on which it is built. Of course, the same could be said for the Bates marriage. Ralph might be sympathetic, but he also married for the prospect of receiving a millionaire’s inheritance and is terrified his son will grow up a sissy. It’s Christmas Eve and his wife has left him.
Everyone faces rejection, everyone has sexual problems, and though both couples want their marriage to work, all are afraid of being vulnerable. Benedict Cumberbatch’s George, a brooding, sulking child of a man, shakes uncontrollably for no physical reason; Isabel is afraid of her first sexual encounter; Ralph feels shame at having married for money; and his wife Dorothea just wants to be loved.
Yet from this turmoil grows a warm story of friendship, love, possibilities and hardship overcome. When all is said and done Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, which sounded mockingly from the television at the beginning of the play, sounds like a real possibility by the end.
Period Of Adjustment is playing at the Almeida until 29 April.