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Gabriel review at Richmond Theatre, London – ‘gripping wartime drama’

Belinda Lang and Paul McGann in Gabriel at Richmond Theatre, London. Photo: Robin Savage
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Set in 1943 on occupied Guernsey, this early play by Moira Buffini was originally staged at Soho Theatre in 1997.

Jeanne Becquet and her family have been ousted from the family home by the Nazis. The housekeeper dabbles in the black market to make ends meet while Jeanne is forced to ingratiate herself with the local general to ensure survival. The latest is a wily fish, who uncovers the big family secret at the same time as the women are harbouring a mysterious, amnesiac stranger in the attic.

Over the course of two hours, Gabriel throws up a number of moral dilemmas. Buffini’s concise style means she can do this without losing any of the tension and there are more than a few twists and turns along the way.

Kate McGregor’s smooth direction exploits the drama to its fullest, creating a genuinely exciting piece of storytelling, complemented by finely nuanced performances and an atmospheric original score by Maria Haik Escudero.

Carla Goodman’s set seems to float the house above the stage against a brooding seascape, echoing the isolation of the island and the characters.

Belinda Lang is on top form as the resourceful matriarch, forced to think on her feet while enduring the oily advances of Paul McGann’s Von Pfunz. It’s fascinating to watch McGann expertly shift from Rhineland buffoon to malevolent Nazi but ultimately this is a play that hangs on the survival instincts of the four very different women.

In a touring theatre landscape replete with classic melodramas and detective novel adaptations, this edge of your seat production is very refreshing.

 

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Verdict
Gripping wartime drama bolstered by fine performances and strong production values
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