Review: Clare Lizzimore’s Mint at the Royal Court Downstairs

Laura Elphinstone as Stephanie and Sam Troughton as Alan. Photo Helen Murray

Laura Elphinstone as Stephanie and Sam Troughton as Alan. Photo Helen Murray

That was unexpected: could it be that the Royal Court weekly rep season, rough, quick and unpolished, produced one of the best acting performances of the year? When the time comes and I look back on 2013, I have little doubt Sam Troughton playing Alan in Clare Lizzimore’s Mint will be a definitive theatre moment of the year.

Mint tracks Alan, a 26 year old prisoner, through the next seven years of his life: prison visits, relocations, release. Family relationships, dreams, world events, personal milestones for loved ones. Alan is forced to watch from the sidelines, trapped physically and emotionally. He is desperate to connect, wrestle some control back and find his way. He struggles too hard to see that everyone is moving away.

The play’s strengths are also its weaknesses: while the details are precise and insightful (I particularly loved the references to 9/11 and the disturbed desperation in the scene when Alan tries to bond with his baby niece), the elliptic narrative doesn’t adequately address important questions: the strained relationship between father and son isn’t given enough attention before the final devastating scene. The incentive for the crime is alluded but then quickly dropped. The momentum of the narrative – both in terms of the play but also in the direction by Caroline Steinbeis – is strong but the text feels piece of a larger story we want to know more about.

Performances are universally strong: Debbie Chazen is too young to be playing Troughton’s mother but that’s the peculiarities – even the beauty – of a repertory company and her performance has nice modulated shades of hope and deep disappointment. Laura Elphinstone has the right amount of engagement but also detachment as Alan’s older sister and Alan Williams – strict, unfathomable – remains an enigma without compromising the humanity of the character.

This is the second play in recent months where Sam Troughton plays a character who, powerless to external forces, is cornered to fight a brutal losing battle. While Thomas in Mike Bartlett’s Bull is unaware, Alan is self aware, engaging and engaged. The tender relationship with his seven year old niece (beautifully played by Tess Fontaine) and his younger sister (Angela Terence in a feisty and intelligent performance) shows the character’s strength and capacity for a different life. When things unravel in the final scene, with Troughton giving a performance of such raging devastation as anything I have ever seen, the feeling is of profound loss.

The playtext is available to download for free till July 20th and Clare Lizzimore directed Mike Bartlett’s Bull in Sheffield. Some connections are less random than they first appear.

You can also read Paul Taylor’s review at the Independent.

Mint came after Pigeons and before the Untitled Matriarch play (or Seven Sisters) in the Royal Court Weekly rep season.

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