Writer: Ronald Harwood
Director: Brigid Larmour
Reviewer: Jonathan Baz
Equally Divided returns to the Watford stage, some 15 years after Ronald Harwood’s work first played there. It’s a curious literary concoction, part comic, part tragic and in part questioning important social and moral dilemmas that include loneliness, envy, rejection and the experience of second generation immigrants. The scope of Harwood’s writing is however so vast, that rather than studying any one of these difficult areas in depth, the author addresses far too many questions with a scatter-gun approach that too often resorts to shallow caricature. And so for a writer of such wisdom and talent, the play is ultimately a disappointing journey.
Notwithstanding, the cast of four are all engaging and as Edith Taylor, the protagonist, Beverley Klein delivers a virtuoso performance. Her character is the elder of two sisters, in her fifties, whose own sense of purpose in life has been drained from her by a manipulative mother recently deceased. We learn how in her final years, Edith provided round-the-clock personal care to her mother, while her sister Renata (played by Katharine Rogers) barely visited. Rogers too gives a noble performance. Her character has been married twice and wealthily, and is a woman who is sexually and financially fulfilled, albeit in therapy. Harwood however could not have made Renata more of a cliché, particularly when contrasted with the empty and drab sexless vessel that is Edith’s life. To this production’s credit however, Klein – who is rarely off stage and with a script that gives her almost as much monologue and soliloquy as it does dialogue – rises to the challenge. The talented actress coaxes subtle (and sometimes blatant) nuance and pathos from almost every word, with a performance that is possibly reason enough alone to see the show.
The two men in the play are local solicitor Charles and antiques dealer Fabian. Walter van Dyk as the widowed lawyer plays a hapless twit of a provincial professional, besotted with Renata and blind to the initially desperate desire that Edith has for him and makes the best of a poorly developed cardboard cut-out of a character. Gregory Gudgeon as the lovable rogue antiquarian is sketched out by Harwood with such ambivalence, that one is ultimately not sure if he cares for Edith, or is ripping her off. This may well be the writer’s clumsy intention, but towards the end of the play, one is possibly beyond caring.
The text has several poetic references that Brigid Lamour has highlighted in the programme. The literary connotations are clear, but one cannot help but feel that if Edith had been given to recite Larkin’s famous This Be The Verse, we could all have been heading for the bar an hour earlier. Harwood writes of dispersal and of the desire of the immigrant to fit in. At times his analysis has pinpoint precision and is a true baring of his soul and of his experience. But while he clearly understands displacement and transience, this piece of theatre fails to move.