Jonah and Otto, Park Theatre | reviews, news & interviews
Jonah and Otto, Park Theatre
Jonah and Otto, Park Theatre
Robert Holman's two-hander about God and men fails to convince
There have been some strong two-handers of late, which perhaps explains why the London premiere of Robert Holman’s 2008 play Jonah and Otto seems sub par. Originally written for the actor Andrew Sheridan, this is a Beckettian take on loneliness, God, love and masculinity. In the hands of director Tim Stark and actors Peter Egan and Alex Waldmann, it feels like a teasing introduction to theology-lite which never hits home with any lingering power.
That said, there are a few moments of real poignancy which interrupt the rambling conversation between 62-year-old Otto Banister and 26-year-old Jonah Teale. In their chance meeting in a park by the coast, neither character goes easy on himself in a rush of revelations and self-criticisms. Otto is a lapsed clergyman whose secret atheism jostles for position with the Christian platitudes he’s used to handing out.
His musings on God and philosophy never feel profound
He admits to tiptoeing through life without ever following his real desires. “Our doubts become our passion,” he says in one sweet moment. Jonah is similarly haunted by the things he hasn’t done and now finds himself taking care of his six-week-old daughter, whom he carts around in a shopping trolley. Like the prophet Jonah stuck in the body of a whale, he has nothing to do but painfully contemplate his mistakes.
Jonah’s childhood stories soon run dry and Otto’s repetitive tales of pretty young women he failed to bed are far from charming. Memories of near misses tread a fine line between a solemn lament for lost opportunities and the ravings of a dirty old man. Meanwhile, his musings on God and philosophy never feel profound. Why we should care about them, why they’re here and why they’re suddenly ready to share their deepest secrets with each other are questions that Holman leaves the audience to answer for themselves.
It’s frustrating that so much of the dialogue revolves around beautiful women and sex. The moments of real introspection that take in parental failure and notions of goodness are too few and far between in a play that lasts for over two hours. Stark’s direction encourages good use of the space. At times, Waldmann crouches child-like on the floor to listen to Egan’s wise old gent before pacing frantically around Simon Bejer’s minimalist set. The more physically introspective Egan draws warmth from brick walls and falls asleep on a park bench. But you can’t help noticing that Waldmann never holds his baby (played by a doll of course) like a real child. Likewise Egan’s attempt at an uninterrupted sleep while Jonah removes all his clothes, like much of this play, lacks conviction.
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