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Visiting Mr Green

Published 17 April 2008

It is a title role that veteran performer Warren Mitchell has likened to playing King Lear and Willy Loman, yet it has taken over a decade for the globally successful Visiting Mr Green, which opened at the Trafalgar Studio 1 last night, to receive a West End debut. Matthew Amer was among the first night audience.

Warren Mitchell has a history of playing men who are set in their ways. He won a Laurence Olivier Award for playing Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman, a man whose commitment to the American Dream leads him to destruction, and his most famous incarnation is bigoted Londoner Alf Garnett. As Mr Green, a similarly set elderly New York Jew alone in the world, lacking both family and friends, he does not have the vehemence of Garnett or the gut-wrenchingly deep tragedy of Loman.

Instead, he presents a character of outer, physical frailty and an unbreakable inner strength and conviction, like a bone china tea set with a titanium core. He is the elderly relative so many of us know, the one who totters around, always threatening to topple over but always staying upright; desperately in need of a little assistance but with a stubbornness of iron that prevents him from admitting he needs it.

Into his world comes Ross Gardiner (Gideon Turner); Harvard graduate, successful businessman, and a man ordered to visit Mr Green every week after knocking him down in a car accident. Separated by two generations, they seem to have nothing in common, but as their icy relationship thaws over kosher food they find common ground, build relationships missing from their lives, and unearth the deep secrets of their pasts.

Baron’s play has a light touch, while tackling subjects of homosexuality, religion, family and changing times. While Turner delivers a strong-willed, outwardly confident man convincingly living a lie, it is Mitchell who gets the show’s best lines; explanations of his life which to him seem so normal, but to everyone else seem extraordinary.

Having originally played the role in 1999, maybe an extra decade has given Mitchell even greater insight into Mr Green’s plight. Whatever it is, the applause from the first night audience was given with more warmth of feeling towards the performer than any I have experienced recently. em>MA

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