Fringe Box



Review: The Handyman – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 26 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 26 Sep, 2012

By The Stage Dragon

This play will will leave you pondering – for days – I expect. Award-winning playwright Ronald Harwood’s The Handyman kept the audience gripped throughout as it explored deep moral questions about guilt and redemption.

Perhaps there is plenty of guilt in Guildford because the play enjoyed an almost full house as it opened at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre last night.

Set in the present day Sussex country side, the play deals with middle class couple Cressida and Julian Field (played by Caroline Langrishe and Adrian Lukis), and their Ukranian ‘handyman’ Romka (played by Timothy West).

Romka has been with the family as long as Cressida can remember and she trusts him as a second father. However their rural idyll is shattered when the police show up, accusing Romka of atrocious war crimes committed more than 50 years ago.

The Handyman Timothy West and Caroline Langrishe as Cressida

Especially relevant, perhaps, to an older audience, who could relate to the couple, the idea of this benign old man being linked to acts of evil is shattering. The true power of the play lies in there being no easy answer to who could be wrong.

The police are presented as polite, human people, just trying to get to the bottom of some awful accusations. The middle class couple are shown to have many flaws and not simply victims of a cruel change in the law.

Even though you want to believe that Romka is innocent, it is incredibly hard, as doubts and uncertainties shake this ‘normal’ family to disturbing extremes. Even if he is guilty, there are many difficult questions; should he still be tried if he has been a good citizen for more than 50 years? Can crimes committed in war be tried carry the same weight and gravity as those in peacetime?

The only flaw in the play was the strange humour adopted in some of the scenes depicting the Field family. Benign jokes about city jobs and marital problems seemed a bit out of place and made the couple seem more like caricatures than genuine people.

Caroline Langrishe and Adrian Lukis

At the beginning of the play Adrian Lukis’ performance as a high flying city banker seemed jarred. It was a little overdone. However the couple grew into their roles and they developed more sides to their characters as the play continued. By the end I found myself really appreciating Lukis and Langrishe’s performances.

Timothy West was exceptional as Romka. He was able to be the quiet handyman that potters in the background but could also completely capture the audience with soliloquies that described the atrocities of the situation in Ukraine. His was in character completely, from his perfect accent to his shuffling movements.

Timothy West and Carolyn Backhouse

Carolyn Backhouse was also striking as Romka’s idealistic and impassioned solicitor, Marian Stone. She was elegant and poised, even when severely tested as she too starts to become confused over Romka’s guilt.

Another highlight of the play was its simple but effective sets. The background for the first half was a soft forest of trees, with green light played over the stage, representing the Field’s rural garden. For the scenes in which Romka was questioned, which only began after the interval, a stark white wall blocked the peaceful warm set of the first half. It really highlighted the difference between the petty problems of modern times and the horrific events of the Second World War.

The audience gasped on cue at dramatic moments and rewarded the players with generous applause. Whatever conclusion you go away with, this play will certainly not bore. Expect your thinking to be provoked and any moral certainty you have to be challenged.

The Handyman runs at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until 6th October 

Box Office Tel: 01483 440000

Have you seen the play? What do you think? Please leave your comment using the ‘Leave a Reply’ box below. Your name is required but email addresses are not revealed or shared.

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Responses to Review: The Handyman – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

  1. Pauline Surrey

    October 2, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Yes, I agree with the sentiments expressed in the review. The play does make you think, and for quite a long time too. It has made me question my own views on an issue I always thought I had a firm opinion on.

    At the end of the play I would have liked the audience to pause before clapping, so as not to interrupt one’s thought processes, and the atmosphere. Unfortunately though, someone always immediately starts to clap these days. A pity. Am I the only one who feels like this?