The Death of Nelson - Review

The fortunate few who saw Robert Cohen's one-man play, The Death of Nelson, enjoyed an interesting, witty journey through the political life of the last twenty years, from Thatcher's second term to 9/11 and beyond. Using the device of Rick's conversations from cradle to grave with his Godson, Nelson, the characters of the protagonist and his close friends, Jo and Anton (the child's parents) were gradually revealed as they turned from student rebels to pragmatic upholders of the establishment. They represented the softening principals of New Labour to achieve and then to hold office, with Rick himself representing the wavering, the disappointment and ultimately the apathy of the supporters at large.

Rick pointed out to his friends early on that Nelson might be thought to be named after Lord Horatio rather than Mandela - and my favourite moment was when Anton was said to have toyed with the idea of reporting this was indeed the origin of the name for his own political advantage. The juxtaposition of Rick's previous relationship with the child's mother (signalling doubts as to Nelson's paternity) and the boy's adult relationship with Rick's girlfriend was perhaps too obvious a development ­ but the fluctuation of the relationships cleverly reflected the fluctuations of the political attitudes not just of the characters but the left wing over recent years. For one person to hold the stage for ninety minutes is a tough assignment, and inevitably there were times when the energy levels sagged a little and the performance lost its edge, but the comedy was well timed and pointed, and Robert Cohen's expressive face established Rick's rather weak character without losing our sympathy or interest.

However, he was not always helped by Emma Gustafsson, his Director, who on the first night provided very shadowy lighting at the start, and had sound effects which were ill placed and much too loud and distracting especially in the opening scene. The simple box set (with re-instated stage) looked well enough as far as it went - but some more imaginative ways to establish time and place beyond information in the programme could have helped to cover the gaps between the scenes which left the actor having to pick up the attack after each blackout.

For all that, Death of Nelson was an enjoyable and stimulating evening and it seemed very sad and remiss that so few members turned up to support a colleague's 'New Venture'. I feel sure those who came will watch Robert's progress as author and actor with interest and pleasure.

Shirley Jaffe