By Jez Butterworth
Directed by Andrew Gray
With Ella Caldwell, Martin Sharpe, Steven Adams, Nicholas Bell & Adrian Mulraney
Set by Peter Mumford
Lighting by Stelios Karagiannis
Sound by Mike Levei
Costumes by Naomi Clegg
Stage Director Kylie Hammond
The Winterling (19 March-19 April, 2008)
Catherine Lambert, Sunday Herald Sun (06/04/2008)
AS the lights went down at the end of The Winterling there were many bewildered mumblings in the audience.
Few seemed to know what it was about.
It was indeed a challenge that only came to light in the last 10 minutes, but when that happened, everything that had gone on before became much more powerful and interesting.
Red Stitch is a fabulous independent company and its work is consistent and polished.
It could certainly show the Melbourne Theatre Company a thing or two about the importance of mastering accents.
The combination of compelling writing from England’s Jez Butterworth and impassioned acting in a small venue must be responsible for the company’s strong subscriptions and widening audience base.
The Winterling is essentially a thriller and is done extremely well. From the start, it felt dark, dingy, menacing and haunted, but never heavy or burdened.It was very funny. This was ensemble acting as it should be perfectly timed, supportive, well-rehearsed and cohesive.
Nicholas Bell as West, a mob member on the run, and Steven Adams as Wally, the stand-over mob man, made a great double act. They bounced off each other with wonderfully authentic English aggression thinly veiled in politeness.
Wally drives to the wasteland countryside to find West and takes a hapless companion and stepson Patsy along, quite literally, for the ride. It is not immediately apparent why the dynamics are so tense and seething, but it becomes clear that West has messed up a hit and has to make up for it by committing another one.
His ethics seem to win out, perhaps because he has had a rare glimpse of love and affection with a destitute young woman, played by Ella Caldwell, wandering over the moor. He is particularly hard on Patsy (Martin Sharpe), who is clearly going to be the next victim, and they also have some well-fired scenes.
Both Bell and Sharpe are magnificent in what would be very tough acting that leaves no time for hesitation and runs on pure instinct.It is true that this requires some mental gymnastics, but it is worth the effort and is thoroughly rewarding theatre.
Chris Boyd, Herald Sun (01/04/2008)
JEZ Butterworth is the first playwright to have his pro debut at the Royal Court since John Osborne, one of the original Angry Young Men.
At the end of the 1950s, Osborne’s Look Back in Anger took theatre out of poncy, fast-talking drawing rooms and dumped it in the roughhouse kitchens and bedrooms of Eastenders.
Butterworth’s newest play is having its world premiere in New York right now. Not quite on Broadway, but just around the corner.
The Winterling, from 2006, is a little like Butterworth’s award-winning debut play Mojo. It’s about thugs and low-lifes. Here, “business” is just another kind of criminal activity.
Think Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. But instead of a Spanish villa, The Winterling is set in a derelict cottage in some godforsaken slice of the UK. And destiny is thundering down the hill like a stray boulder.
These men talk as if they’re punching a speed-ball at the gym: fast, brutal, repetitive, rhythmic. It’s often hard to tell who has the upper hand.
Butterworth is a playwright by choice, but he makes his living fixing scripts for Hollywood. It’s easy to hear why. He’s a gifted story-teller, too.
Mr West (Nicholas Bell) is visited by one of his old cronies, Wally (Steven Adams). West is the “retired” partner, though there are hints he went quite barmy. He has summoned Wally to the cottage. Instead of the third “musketeer” Jerry, Wally brings his girlfriend’s son, an aggravating little tosser aptly named Patsy (Martin Sharpe) . . . but to divulge more of the twisty plot would be to ruin it.
We’ve come to expect big things from Red Stitch and this production, if anything, exceeds expectations.
It’s good-looking, finely tuned and quite brilliantly acted. Bell is terrifyingly good as West. A sane man would back quietly out of the room when he bares his teeth.
Adrian Mulraney’s cameo as the derro caretaker is also hugely impressive.
Martin Ball, The Age (24/03/08)
The Winterling (18 Nov – 19 Dec, 2009) by Jez Butterworth. Directed by Andrew Gray.
Gangsters have always been popular subjects for scriptwriters, offering endless varieties of characters with colourful turns of phrase and any number of devious plot scenarios. While the genre is rife with violence and crime, it’s also full of humour, and British gangsters in particular are invariably funny rather than savage creatures – think The Italian Job, Monty Python’s “Piranha Brothers”, and Lock, Stock and you get the picture.
English playwright Jez Butterworth is familiar with this territory, having made his name with Mojo, a comedy about the 1950s London gangster scene. Butterworth returns to the genre in The Winterling, where the gangsters enjoy a laugh, but also a sinister and stomach-churning denouement.
There are some great plot moves in the play including a flashback scene, but it’s not worth giving the story away in a review – save for the teaser that the ending, with its diabolical dilemma, is a terrific twist.
What is worth revealing is that in this Red Stitch production the three key gangster characters are all wonderfully realised. Nicholas Bell gives a great performance as the central figure, Mr West. Bell has the playful snarl to a tee, lending his lines a threatening muscularity, and when the time comes he also shows us deep humiliation and pain.
Steven Adams is smarmy Wally, a man who has spent his ill-gotten earnings on wine, women and facelifts. Adams is perfect as the gentleman gangster with a heart of stone who happily sells his friends and family down the river.
Then there’s the aptly named Patsy, Wally’s stepson, who never knows when to hold his tongue. Martin Sharpe brings exquisite naivety and conceit to this character, and enjoys a scintillating verbal duel with Bell over the specifications of a nearby Roman fort. Adrian Mulraney and Ella Caldwell are equally entertaining as the two additional characters, Draycott and Lue.
Director Andrew Gray has the actors in tip-top rhythm throughout, adding just the right amount of extra touches to the script, and Peter Mumford’s simple design likewise contributes the right edge, with a hatchet and saw blade lying suggestively in the fireplace.
The Winterling is like a short story in that it leaves the audience just at the point of the moral dilemma, without completing the narrative. But it’s a great actor’s play, and the intimate ambience (and new seats) at Red Stitch make it a hit.