13 May 2023
4000 MILES (Minerva Theatre, Chichester) Review
This production was due to run at The Old Vic in London, but was cancelled during Covid and was never rescheduled. It was staged at Chichester instead with Eileen Atkins playing the 91-year-old Vera, as per pre-Covid billing, and Sebastian Croft playing her 21-year-old grandson, replacing Timothée Chalamet originally announced for the Vic.
Amy Herzog has received numerous awards for her writing (in fact, this play was a 2011 Pulitzer finalist!), so I was quite looking forward to seeing one staged. The writing is certainly clever, and there is a lot of warmth and humour. Vera is afraid of impending decline, Leo is afraid of where his life might be going, and so they fluctuate between being at loggerheads and two peas in a pod.
There are scenes that are incredibly clever. The one where Leo pours his heart out to Vera in a middle-of-the-night chat, her response positively brings the house down. You are blindsided by the twist, and it’s refreshingly wonderful. But then, of course, there are scenes that are either trying to make a laboured point or are simply careless. There is one where chickens are key, and then, later on, Leo says he’s been cooped up in the flat like a chicken, and we’re left to wonder whether there is a genuine connection (doesn’t seem like it) or a simple lack of a better analogy. On balance, however, the text is interesting and intriguing. My only criticism is that, whilst it covers a big range of topics and subjects, it doesn’t dive into any of them at great depth.
Atkins is simply superb. She starts off as a discombobulated ghostly figure (awoken in the middle of the night by her grandson at the door), but then progresses to a wilful and opinionated sparring partner, figuratively speaking, of course, for Leo. Atkins manages to give Vera fragility that’s under the surface of the character, almost like Vera has outward strength, but an inner fear of failing health. She is joyous to watch, and her performance is a masterclass in acting.
Croft holds his own opposite her surprisingly well. His character isn’t as crisply written, but he gives his Leo both some cheek and some tenderness, which works really well. Croft and Atkins bounce their energy off one another, and it elevates the play.
Nell Barlow as Leo’s girlfriend and Elizabeth Chu as his one-night stand round off the cast. Richard Eyre’s direction is thoroughly enjoyable, as the characters he creates are flawed by immensely likeable.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £12.