Alex has the whole world in front of him, is ready to reach for it, and yet, and yet…

Griffin Theatre is known for showcasing fresh, exciting writing, and UK playwright Simon StephensOn the Shore of the Wide World is another fascinating example of this. It’s a tender, grueling familial drama played out over three generations, where the characters all long to escape, but find that the ties that keep them together can also hold them back.

This production brings together a troupe of very strong performers from the actors’ collective pantsguys, who are engaging throughout; bringing depth to characters that are torn between what they could have had, and what they are faced with now. Though the set is fairly unremarkable, and the musical interludes don’t leave a mark, Anthony Skuse’s direction takes great care with the pacing, ensuring that its emotional impact is gradual and understated. The pathos takes a good while to build; but the reward is that we follow the characters’ trajectories as the plot develops, and avoid feeling like victims of melodrama.

Alex (Graeme McRae) is young, confident, and selfish enough to escape the awful situation at home, but his parents cannot make the same changes, seemingly tied to their town and their grievances without really knowing why. Huw Higginson is truly excellent as the father, Peter, ranging from mousy to both broken- and lion-hearted, and Amanda Stephens-Lee is gripping, and unsettling as the strong but embittered mother. The grandparents (Paul Bertram and Kate Fitzpatrick), whose unhappiness with their splintering relationship seems even more ingrained, provide an historical context for Alex, who is the first in the family to leave town. He has a terrible time in London and, as the prodigal son, returns, though we know it is temporary. Although it lacks a dynamic range at times, On the Shore of the Wide World remains thought-provoking, endearing, and moving.

3.5/5 stars.

On The Shore Of The Wide Worldis playing at the Griffin Theatre until Saturday February 1.

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