THE APPLE FAMILY PLAYS – Brighton Festival, Brighton.
Richard Nelson’s The Apple Family Plays premiered over four years at The Public Theater in New York, before culminating in an extended award-winning run where each play could be seen in repertory. The plays finally received their UK premiere at The Brighton Festival which has brought over all four of these plays, with the original ensemble cast, as the centre piece of their 2015 season – and what a unique gift they are.
Presented on this day in a spectacular marathon, and being both epic in scale, yet alarmingly intimate this is the kind of theatre that you pray for. A once in a lifetime event that is a seasoned theatregoers dream come true.
Every year for four years, the same group of actors and playwrite Nelson (who also directs with acute precision) would create a play based around the dining room table of the liberal Apple family who reside in Rhinebeck, New York. Each play is set on a historic day, whether it be the anniversary of 9/11 or a pesidential election, and all of them explore modern American life alongside the intricacies of families and the inconsistencies of politics. Nelson’s writing allows us to witness not only the dynamics of an average family shifting, but how the country itself changes during Barack Obama’s presidency, all through a tightly focused dramatic lens. All four of the plays have their own merits but it is the potency of Sorry, which is spookily similar to current political rumblings here in UK, and Sweet and Sad, in which the family reflect on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 that are particularly striking.
The ensemble acting here is some of the finest you will ever see and is so naturalistic and delicate one almost has to lean forward to eavesdrop on the action. It’s difficult to single out anybody amongst such perfectly formed performances but Maryann Plunkett is especially moving as eldest sibling Barbara. Plunkett’s unique capabilities places her firmly at the centre of each play but she never intrudes or dominates proceedings. This is an actress who transforms. She has you laughing one minute and in floods of tears the next. Plunkett is an incredibly gifted performer (she won a Tony Award for Me and My Girl in the 1980s) and what a treat to be able to see her here.
Whether eating a simple dinner, having a heated discussion or simply exchanging stories, over the course of these four exceptional plays, the Apple family become our friends, our allies, we understand them and we believe in them and after eight hours of being in their dynamic company, I have to say, it was hard to say goodbye. An undoubted triumph.
– – – – – – – – – –
By Rory Maxwell
2nd – 4th May 2015
The Corn Exchange, Brighton Festival, Brighton BN1 1UE