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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Watermill - Only a Matter of Time

13th February to 23rd March 2002.

From The Times 22/02/2002, Jeremy Kingston: "...however stimulating the insights along the way, the journey to a foregone conclusion forfeits the thrill of uncertainty." 2 stars (out of 5).

This is the Newbury Weekly News view.

Playing with time and chance

'ONLY A MATTER OF TIME', at The Watermill, until March 23

It is 1840 and the railway has yet to traverse the country east to west. In a Welsh field a stranger chances upon a farmer turning his hay.

A deceptively simple opening to award-winning writer Alan Plater's Only a Matter of Time that will, in the course of the play, successively challenge our perception of time, history and progress.

The stranger Fanshawe is not here by accident and as Brunel's emissary, his mission is to explain how the railway will profit the community. Meredith the farmer is not easily convinced and even more bemused to learn that to make it happen they will have to accept 'London Time'.

Plater's premise that 'prior to the building of the railways ... towns on the east-west axis had local time' meant an 11-minute difference between London and Cardiff - presumably four minutes between Newbury and London? Time, however, is only one concern that Plater, in a comic and rabble-rousing way, touches upon in a performance that tackles the martyrs and demons of the Industrial Revolution.

Owing to the magnitude of his issues Plater cannot he shackled by 1840 and the action in the second act leaps to the present as a train, Fanshawe's vision, heads towards Wales. A man called Meredith is checking tickets and meets a man called Fanshawe on a mission to explain the advantage of a new government initiative. To add to the intrigue, they are the descendents of the two who chanced in 1840.

Holding a mirror to the past 'modern' Meredith resists 'modern' Fanshawe's argument. In a humorous exchange, suggesting the earlier encounter, they confront past ghosts and the truth of why 'Fanshawe's Leap' commemorates a sinister act.

To the author Only a Matter of Time is an anarchic comedy, totally free of sex, drugs and rock-and roll, where we take a small herd of sacred cows and milk them dry.

Excellent acting by Brendan O'Hea as a droll Meredith and Simon Walter as the excitable Fanshawe gave body to the script, ensuring Plater's vision. Add to that, John Doyle's tight direction and Dawn Allsop's striking set and one cannot doubt that this, Plater's debut at the Watermill, will be a splendid success.


Newbury Theatre's view:

It’s an odd little play. Act 1 is about an educated Englishman who goes to Wales in the 1840s as part of the construction of the Great Western Railway. He meets an illiterate Welsh farmer, and fails to explain to him the benefits of progress. Act 2 is set in the present day and is about a chance meeting between two descendents of the original two - the industrial revolution has been replaced by the information revolution. It’s a comedy, but with serious undertones, about irreconcilable differences between people.

Alan Plater originally wrote this as a radio play, and his adaptation of it specially for the Watermill can't escape from its origins. It's very wordy, very static, and although it's a short play and the themes are interesting, it never quite fulfils its potential.

Meredith, the Welshman, played by Brendan O'Hea, takes a simple Luddite view of things when confronted with Fanshawe's (Simon Walter) arguments in favour of progress, but his own cogent arguments belie his peasant background. It's clear where Plater's sympathies lie, and Fanshawe never manages to outsmart his oppo, although a few pints together finally manage to bring some tolerance, if not consensus.