Review: The Handyman, until Oct 20 at Richmond Theatre
(From left to right) Caroline Langrishe, Adrian Lukis, Timothy West and Carolyn Backhouse in The Handyman, September 25 to October 5 at the Yvonne Arnaud, October 15 to 20 at Richmond Theatre
Timothy West stars as the enigmatic Roman Kozachenko in Ronald Harwood’s electrifying crime drama, The Handyman, writes Rob Edwards
The intensity and richness of West’s performance in this tale of intrigue has dumbstruck audiences barely daring to breathe, digesting his every subtle movement and gesture in stony silence.
Not a play for the aficionado of spoon-fed entertainment, The Handyman directed by Joe Harmston is a stirring, multi-layered story that raises a breadth of moral questions, softened by the few merciful comic moments.
When the seemingly tranquil life of Julian and Cressida Field (Adrian Lukis, Caroline Langrishe) is disturbed by the arrival of Scotland Yard’s war crimes unit, they refuse to believe their beloved handyman of more than 40 years had participated in the slaughter of Ukrainian Jews.
Through gripping dialogue and intimately portrayed characters the play exhaustively tours concepts of retribution, responsibility, memory and guilt, as Roman (West) is interrogated and steadily unravelled.
By the end of the performance, whether Roman is guilty or innocent seems immaterial, as such a parallel would fail to do justice to the complexities related in the plot.
“I can’t write plays about a theme,” says playwright Ronald Harwood. “I have to write plays about people.
“It’s when the person comes alive to me that I can then write the play. I hate propaganda plays. I hate being told what to think.”
In the present context of Ratko Mladic’s recent war crimes tribunal and the cruel tide of Islamophobia sweeping the West, the Oscar Award winning writer’s message resonates strongly. When does justice become an act of revenge, and do we reopen old wounds by revisiting the ugly past?
Not wishing to detract from the play’s rich characterisations, the set is subtle but beautifully designed by Sean Cavanagh. Only in the Second Act is its technical brilliance realised.
A large projector screen is lowered over the stage where haunting witness testimonies by Vanessa Redgrave as Sister Sophia and Steve Berkoff as Nikita Fedorenko are played for the tormented Roman.
West undoubtedly champions this production thanks to his profound versatility – from his understated actions to his howls of fear and torment – owing his mastery of Roman’s thick Ukrainian accent to voice coach Charmian Hoare.
Carolyn Backhouse is absorbing as Roman’s lawyer, Marian Stone, while James Simmons and Anthony Houghton make a remarkable duo as Scotland Yard’s detectives.
This thought provoking play, produced by the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, is an absolute must see. There is no denying it.
The Handyman runs at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud until Saturday October 6 before moving on to Richmond Theatre from October 15 to 20.
For the current performance, visit the Yvonne Arnaud website here or call 01483440000.
For the Richmond Theatre performance, visit AGT Tickets here or call 0844 8717651.