Loft Theatre, Wednesday 22 February 2023 [until 04 March].
Two old-school villains meet in a semi-derelict farmhouse on Dartmoor, one having driven up from The Smoke with a young apprentice in tow. The purpose of the meeting is not clear but there is a simmering air of tension between West [Dave Crossfield] and Wally [Phil Reynolds].
James McCabe as Patsy – perhaps an intentional pun on being a ‘patsy’ – was the mouthy, naïve young acolyte hoping to inveigle his way among the big boys of the underworld gang.
Dave exuded menace and Phil was subservient in their initial exchanges but there were comic moments as West persuaded, nay, instructed Wally and Patsy to remove their trousers to dry them by the fire.
However this was anything but a trousers-off farce. Even in the jokey reminiscences about the good ol’ days West and Wally conveyed a sense of forced jollity and lack of ease. This was one of the several instances when the clever script kept us in the dark as to what was going on.
The superb acting in the first act kept the audience engaged, anticipating revelations of some of the back story in the second act, which was one year earlier. A dishevelled West was in the house with its owner, a blustery, boastful and greedy Draycott [Matthew Salisbury]. Matthew played this shabby character splendidly with a lengthy monologue to a weary West. It allowed the introduction of Lue [Nona Davies], a waif that Draycott had picked up and used for his pleasure.
Lue’s interactions with West meant that he morphed from despondency to strength, and the power switched from Draycott to West. West revealed that he had let the crime bosses down and, after a severe beating and extreme inhuman treatment, had gone into exile.
The third act, back in the present, allowed some of the characters to show some humanity and to escape their desperately sad lives. The plot – and the characters’ motives – became clearer.
Murder and revenge were afoot. Lue and Patsy both wanted to escape to a better future. West realised that his hopes of rehabilitation in the gang were groundless but found a way of taking control of his life and freeing himself from his past mistakes.
The acting was outstanding throughout by all the cast. The technicals and set were top quality and enhanced this first rate production.
The Winterling runs until Saturday March 4. Visit lofttheatrecompany.com for full details and booking.