Review by Daz Gale
The hit rate at the Young Vic lately has been nothing short of exceptional, with Best Of Enemies and Oklahoma! both transferring to the West End while last years The Collaboration recently opened on Broadway. Never one to rest on their recent successes, they are hoping to strike gold again with this new revival of Zinnie Harris’ Further Than The Furthest Thing. Would this be another explosive success for them?
First performed in 1999, Further Than The Furthest Thing is based on real events and tells the story of a group of residents on a remote volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic whose undisturbed lifestyles are disrupted when a visitor arrives on the island, changing their way of life forever. As the residents struggle to adapt to their new life away from the home they have always known, things from the past begin to threaten their future.
The story is told in two very distinct and different acts. The first act acclimatises the audience to the way life is on this island that has continues for centuries, cut off from the rest of the world and blissfully aware of real world events (details of which emerge later on). An incident forces them to leave the island, leading to a complete shift in the second act which is predominantly set in a factory on the main land. This huge difference can prove jarring at first – almost as if you are returning to a completely different show post interval which may make audience members struggle to immerse themselves in the action after spending all of the first act growing into the story. Perhaps this is a deliberate choice to mirror the way the islands inhabitants struggle to acclimatise to their new setting. However, it didn’t succeed as well as hoped and perhaps lessened the impact the beginning of the second act might have had.
An exceptional cast have been gathered to bring the story to life with Olivier Award winning and Tony Award nominated Jenna Russell proving once again what a formidable talent she is. As Mill, she is the driving force behind the story following her first appearance minutes into the first act, welcoming the audience and helping them understand the different way these inhabitants live and speak. Performed with a sense of ease, warmth and, at times, blissful ignorance, Jenna gives a masterclass performance as the fairly innocent though deceptively complicated character.
Equally impressive in his role is Cyril Nri as Bill. Giving a standout performance, his sweet nature masks a dark past as Cyril does a fantastic job portraying the haunted and conflicted Bill, who wants nothing more than things to be good in his community. Giving a wonderfully understated performance, the rare intense moments the character deals with show what a fantastic actor Cyril is as he relishes one of the meatier roles the show has to offer.
Other characters suffer from not being as fleshed out as the older couple and could have garnered more sympathy had these been developed further. Still, Archie Madekwe delights as Francis and Gerald Kyd is beautifully mysterious in his relatively small role of Mr Hansen. Though her time in the spotlight is relatively limited, Kirsty Rider’s presence at the sidelines (sometimes behind the audience) is more captivating than might be expected, amplified by the power in her performance when she does get something to do. Perhaps the most interesting character of the bunch, I would have liked to see more of her, particularly when Kirsty plays the role so remarkably.
The versatile space of the Young Vic is transformed once more, this time in a completely in the round setting. The set design by Soutra Gilmour is immediately impressive and enraptures the audience fairly immediately. However, the same can’t be said for the bizarre seating choices. While beautiful aesthetically, there is always something to be said when it comes to audience comfort. The most impressive production element is Ian William Galloways stunning video projection which makes full use of the in the round setting, almost feeling like a planetarium at times. Prema Mehta’s lighting marries this use fantastically while George Dennis’ sound design ensures the whole thing is magically atmospheric.
Jennifer Tangs direction is fantastic to behold with all the action playing out beautifully alongside these wonderful production elements. However, this never quite manages to work in tandem with the writing. While Further Than The Furthest Thing is perfectly pleasant in itself, it has the tendency to plod on at times, never quite captivating. Taking quite a while to kick in on both acts, it suffers from being slightly too long and consistently slow. A couple of dark and drastic turns make the whole thing rather uncomfortable, but rather than keep me invested in the show, it all felt a bit too flat. It’s not that the writing is underwhelming or that the direction doesn’t quite match. It’s all perfectly fine, but there is always the feeling it could be so much better and never quite manages to reach its full potential.
Ultimately, Further Than The Furthest Thing is a perfectly adequate show. An incredible cast, a beautiful production and some interesting topics made this a great show to sit back and enjoy. It’s just unfortunate that while it continually bubbled over, it never quite managed to explode like I had hoped. This production does have some great things going for it though and has a lot of potential, should the relevant tweaks be made. It’s closer to success than it might seem and a great show coming out of this simply ok production really wouldn’t be the furthest thing.
Further Than The Furthest Thing plays at the Young Vic until 29th April. Tickets from https://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/further-than-the-furthest-thing
Photos by Marc Brenner