I was a very lucky girl this week and not only had a whole day out with my husband and no kids (more on that soon), but also an evening out at the theatre for good measure. A date, some might call it.
Nuffield Southampton Theatres kindly sent me two tickets to go and see The Grapes of Wrath, which is the Frank Galati adapted screenplay of the John Steinbeck novel. It’s in Southampton until 25th March, then off to Nottingham, Northampton and Leeds.
Now, the sum total of my Steinbeck reading repertoire extends to Of Mice And Men, which I “did” for GCSE English Lit. So I hadn’t read The Grapes of Wrath, and went into the theatre pretty much blind. Save for the glorious disclaimer on the website that the play contained full frontal nudity. My favourite!
Firstly, it was marvellous to see a grown up play, after a slew of (albeit superb) children’s theatre productions. Rather than an atmosphere verging on just the right side of bedlam, we found our seats and rejoiced at the intellectual company in the audience, sipping white wine and discussing politics. I felt a bit embarrassed about the bag of fizzy cherry cola bottles I’d snuck in my bag…although I ate them anyway.
So, the play. Directed by Abbey Wright, it depicts the journey of the Joad family on Route 66 from the American dust bowl to California during the Great Depression. Lured by the promise of work and an improved quality of life, driven out by the banks who have razed their home to the ground, their pilgrimage ignites the extremes of hope and fear within humanity.
The music (Matt Regan) is haunting and at times, desperate, and the stark, simplistic set design places all of the emphasis onto the actors to carry the story. And they do – this version features a 50-strong cast including Southampton community members. I’m a bugger for a good matriarch and Julia Swift’s portrayal of Ma Joad is superb. Driven by a need to “keep the family whole”, the play sees her achieve increasing authority and leadership, unwavering in her defiance against the challenges thrown at her amid mechanisation and displacement of people.
However, it was the emergence of Rose of Sharon as a hero that surprised me. Throughout the play, she’s depicted as a slightly whimsical, weak and petulant girl, pregnant with her first child and later seemingly abandoned by her husband. Ma’s eldest daughter, and a source of continued exasperation at her negativity and selfishness. But, in the final scene, she had me crying and clapping with such vigour I thought my hand might fall off.
I won’t give away the ending. But it was beautifully, beautifully acted and the play is worth seeing a thousand times over for that alone.
There are still some tickets available for the remaining performances this week. And if you miss this one, please do support your local theatre – best night out I’ve had in ages.
-SJW March 2017
Disclaimer: NST gave me two free tickets (and two free drinks, since you ask) to see The Grapes Of Wrath. For more details about my work with brands, please take a look at my full Disclosure Statement.