Oleanna - Review

David Mamet's controversial play confronts the issues of sexual harassment and political correctness but at the same time allows the audience to decide which of the two protagonists is right. In the first act Carol, a student who is having trouble with her studies, meets with her tutor, John. She tries to explain that she is a failure because she does not understand the language that he uses, both in class and in the book that he has written. There is a failure of communication on both sides when he tries to help her by taking the blame for this lack of understanding. This leads to him stepping outside the normal rules of teacher/pupil relationship culminating in him putting an arm around to comfort her when she breaks down and making a risqué joke to lighten the situation. In the second act we learn that, egged on by a campus feminist group, she has laid a complaint against him that results in him losing his job. When he physically restrains her from leaving the room when he is talking to her she accuses him of attempted rape.

After a slow start, in which I found the cutting across and repetitive dialogue excessive and irritating, the play built up through a series of scenes of conflict to a powerful climax and provided the two actors with challenging roles. Serena Brand gave us yet another of her excellent performances and was outstanding in her transformation from the frightened, insecure girl that we first see to the fighting feminist that challenges, her tutor. She was well matched by Tim Blissett who brought out all the facets of John's character. It is a tribute to their skill that one could believe each of them to be a victim or a victimiser.

A word of praise for Pat Boxall whose direction brought out these fine performances but remained un-intrusive. I particularly liked the costume changes that marked the time intervals. So often one sees actors wearing the same clothes throughout the whole play that may cover many years!

Barrie Jerram