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AN INTERVENTION: This Show Needs One

by | Mar 13, 2024 | Review | 0 comments

For me, sitting through this mounting of Mike Bartlett’s An Intervention was an endurance test. I started checking my watch half an hour into its 80-minute running time, and my chair got very hard.

My primary beef is with the script, but I also suspect the direction is off.

In this interpretation from Mitch and Murray Productions, Kate Craven is playing a character the script calls A, and Christiaan Westerveld is B. The play is set in England in the not-so-distant past, and A is furious that B hasn’t shown up for a rally protesting Prime Minister Tony Blair’s military intervention in an unspecified conflict in the Middle East. There are other “interventions” as the evening unfolds: A gets in B’s face about his relationship with a woman named Hannah, and B complains about A’s use of alcohol.

The characters call one another best friends and, theoretically at least, their affection is based in their mutual fondness for “banter” and truth-telling, but A is relentlessly abusive and inappropriate in her behaviour: she calls Hannah “a harridan, a fucking bride of Satan”, and complains about B’s politics to his Facebook friends.

In his script, Bartlett fails to establish a credible baseline of affection between A and B off the top and the piece contains no sustained passages of respect between them, so investing in their relationship feels pointless. And investment is made even more difficult and unlikely by the relentlessness of their attacks on each other: “Hannah is a harridan”, “You’re a drunk”, “You’re not the person I thought you were.”

This is where direction comes in. I have a hunch that the excesses of vitriol might have a chance of being funny — although certainly not witty — if they were played more lightly, as a clearer send-up of self-righteousness and self-involvement. But, stylistically, the script is trying to have it both ways: it wants to be funny, it seems, and poignant. It ends in a very dark place, and that’s the direction director Aaron Craven has leaned in this production. He has also failed to find much variety in the script’s passages. As a result, under his direction, Kate Craven plays the vitriol with straight-ahead emotionality that undercuts almost all the comic potential and emphasizes the script’s merciless repetitiveness.

To be clear, I’m complaining about the script and the direction, not the performance. As A, Kate Craven shows other colours, including desperation, sorrow, and varying degrees of intoxication. She does all of this honestly and with commitment.

For his part, Westerveld (B) started off with what looked like a series of poses the night I attended — to me, it felt like he was doing a rough impersonation of a pompous guy — but his characterization became more relaxed and nuanced as the evening went on. As written, B also has the advantage of a monologue that explains his desire to avoid pain. In my experience of this production, it’s one of the few moments that offered thematic nuance.

An Intervention references suicide — and tries to make a dark joke in the process. Because I found the evening superficial, this struck me as offensive.

AN INTERVENTION by Mike Bartlett. Directed by Aaron Craven. On Tuesday, March 12. Presented by Mitch and Murray Productions. At Performance Works until March 17. Tickets

PHOTO CREDIT: Christiaan Westerveld and Kate Craven in a publicity shot by Shimon Photo.

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