Nicola Walker of ‘Spooks’, ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ and ‘Unforgotten’, looks fantastic in this new production of Emlyn Williams’ 1938 play The Corn is Green. In its first London revival in forty years, it follows the trials, labors and possible triumph of a benevolent English teacher as she attempts to bring salvation through education to a poor Welsh mining village, writes Reverend Katie Kelly.
Miss Lily Moffatt arrives with suitcases of books and good intentions and a complete lack of self-awareness. Her unsolicited project nearly fails in the face of local opposition, but in local boy Morgan Evans she discovers a diamond in the rough and the inspiration to continue her endeavors. She is determined to give him a chance to escape the mines and realize his great potential.
The relationship between these two, with its developing depth and complexity, shines among the slightly cartoonish writing of the rest of the cast, though they manage to put on solid performances. The development of the plot towards its cliffhanger climax is reflected in the mise-en-scène.
The play opens with a silhouetted 1920s party taking place behind a folding screen. Emlyn Williams’ character as the author of this semi-autobiographical story breaks out and begins to narrate and direct the beginning of the play. What is revealed behind the screen as it ascends is not the lavish scene suggested by the party, but a completely bare, unsupported scene. So begins a clever directing by Dominic Cooke, where the creative writing process is staged as Emlyn talks about his characters and their actions. Just when it was starting to feel a little clever, the final set of the study classroom helped bring the cast brilliantly to the fore while Williams retired to the sidelines and gave her own space. of history.
It’s not just a success story of rags to educational riches. Although Williams won a place at Oxford University, in part through the teaching and support of an English social worker, some of the tensions of being completely uprooted from a community without being fully accepted into a another play out in the story of its protagonist Morgan Evans. . These might be familiar to many first-generation college students even today. His drunken argument with Miss Moffatt expresses some of the frustrations of being someone’s project and has led to greater balance and nuance in their relationship as well as extremely well-acted character growth for the teacher.
To say this is a sweet old-fashioned story is not a criticism. The world is on fire and sometimes theater is allowed to be entertaining and barely stimulating. The story is driven by creative direction and beautiful music, provided by the omnipresent chorus of Welsh miners singers. All in all a happy and harmonious evening.
The National Theater (Lyttleton) until June 11. Mon – Sat 7:30 p.m.; Wed & Sat mornings 2:15 p.m. Admission: £20 – £89.
Reservation: 0208 989 5455 – www.nationaltheatre.org.uk