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Wilderness review at Hampstead Theatre, London – ‘finely crafted new writing’

They’ve assured their son that they love him more than anything else and that they’ll always put him first; that it’ll be better for mum and dad to live in separate homes. But Joe and Anne’s amicable front doesn’t hold for long in Kellie Smith’s play, as battle lines are drawn and an acrimonious war for custody begins.

Both parents act out of genuine love for Alistair, but Smith is great at showing how years of resentment tighten into an unyielding knot of the heart. The writing is bolstered by two full-blooded central performances by Natalie Klamar and Finlay Robertson – restless and wild-eyed, Klamar’s Anne is powered by a maternal instinct that overrides everything else; Robertson’s Joe appears genial at first, but gradually shows layers of calcified rage and guilt that manifest in ugly ways.

In Anna Ledwich’s production, the audience stands in for their son, who never appears on stage. It’s a simple but expressive device that makes clear the extent to which Joe and Anne act out of self-interest. The actors have to vie for the audience’s attention and allegiance – we’re caught in the middle, unsure of whose version of the truth to believe.

The actors drift through Lucy Sierra’s set – a dilapidated, dream-like interior, insulation fibre poking out of knocked-through walls with peeling skin. Matt Haskins’ lighting floats through gaps, holes and windows, giving texture to empty space. It suggests the damage done by Joe and Anne’s actions, but also the passage of time, the tenacity of love, and the possibility of forgiveness.

Verdict
Finely crafted new writing exploring the damaging effects of a messy divorce

Production Information

Production
Wilderness
Venue
Hampstead Theatre Downstairs
City
London
Starts
March 21, 2019
Ends
April 27, 2019
Press night
April 3, 2019
Authors
Kellie Smith
Director
Anna Ledwich
Set
Lucy Sierra
Lighting
Matt Haskins
Sound
Dan Balfour
Costume
Lucy Sierra
Stage manager
Bethan McKnight
Production manager
Ian Taylor
Cast includes
Richard Frame, Natalie Klamar, Allison McKenzie, Finlay Robertson
Producer
Hampstead Theatre
Running time
2hrs 15mins