"imaginative and definitely mysterious author"
by Aline Waites for remotegoat on 15/10/18

James Purdy was an American novelist, who also wrote published plays which never had a full scale production until now. He was described by Gore Vidal as ‘An authentic American genius’ and indeed his work is unlike any other playwright, he believed in ‘mystery’ having no time for ‘meaningfulness’ or ‘relevance’

The play is set in mid West America in 1919 just after the first world war.

It involves a father, Arthur Rawlings, who is broken hearted by the loss of his eldest son who died a heroic death, that he cannot spare any affection for the two young sons that he considers useless.The boys are visited by the owner of the Circus (Peter Tate) who persuades them that the circus will give them a better life. The father sells them for a large sum of money. After they have gone, he finds he misses them.

Of course tragedy happens when after a period of time, the boys abscond from the circus and come home. By this time Rawlings has sought help from the very person he should avoid, the local gypsy fortune teller and witch, Alda Pennington. Fighting to keep him sane is his housekeeper Minnie, played by Debra Penny.

Tim Woodward gives a magnificent and moving performance as the father who cannot show love. His confidant is a kindly doctor played by Mark Aiken a person of sanity within this dysfunctional family.. The very beautiful Sophie Ward is the witch with her long blonde streaming hair and who talks in a sweet singsong voice as she wreaks havoc. The two young brothers are Joshua Ward and Sam Coulson.

One of the most interesting items in this production is the music. From the beginning, there is jazz played by Salim Sai and Darren Berry and every so often, when there is a time gap, music arrives on the scene again or is played offstage. Darren Berry also treats us to some tap dancing.

Jazz played a huge part in the life of the author who lived among the intelligentsia, the jazz musicians and painters of New York. . So it is very appropriate to have it in this strange convoluted production.

The play is in the round which gives the feeling of a circus ring with fairy lights that come on when the there is a scene about the circus or when Tate as the Circus master is on stage. The lighting is very important as it heralds all the scene changes and follows scenes which take place off the stage. Very important and clever lighting design by Sherry Coenan

To produce and direct this work is the now fulfilled ambition of the artistic director of the Playground Anthony Biggs, a worshipper of Purdy. I want to thank him and the Playground Theatre for introducing me to this strange, imaginative and definitely mysterious author.

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