As it starts, Williams addresses the audience directly, setting the time somewhere in the early 20th century. Gradually he summons his characters onto a bare stage, and describes their actions to recorded sound effects. It’s all a little stiff, as if the author is struggling to bring his characters to life.
We are in a well-to-do house in a Welsh mining village, but a proper set isn’t introduced until Act II, when the stage is transformed into the main room of the house, with its well-stocked bookshelves. It’s as if by then the play has taken a life of its own.
The Welsh setting is accentuated by the constant presence of a group of miners, not unlike the chorus of ancient Greek theatre. At times they sing Welsh songs with their deep, melodious voices. Mostly they are just silent observers of developments that will inexorably affect their community.
The Corn is Green company in rehearsal. Photo: Johan Persson
The plot is simple: an indomitable well off 40-something spinster, Miss Moffat, played with fierce conviction by Nicola Walker (The Split, Unforgotten), is determined to better the lives of Welsh miners, most of whom start work down the pits aged 10, through education.
Miss Moffat steamrollers all opposition, particularly from The Squire (Rufus Wright), a deeply reactionary character, who doesn’t have much truck with women in general, much less forceful women, and even less education for the masses.
The community, too, are far from convinced of the benefits of any alternative to mining; but when Miss Moffat finds one particularly talented young miner, Morgan Evans (Iwan Davies), she determines he will go to Oxford University, come what may.
The play’s resolution is far from satisfactory, and the tone of this production hovers uneasily between plain narrative and near-farce. Nicola Walker does her best (and her best is very good) with a one-note character: a brisk, fast-talking, no-nonsense woman of unwavering conviction, who’s well ahead of her time.
Iwan Davies is convincing as the young man initially daunted by the prospects opening before him, but gradually accepting of his intellect and where it will lead him.
The character of The Squire, though, is a caricature of an entitled, overbearing and, in Miss Moffat’s own words ‘very stupid nincompoop’. Also bi-dimensional is Miss Ronberry (Alice Orr-Ewing), who hankers for narrow feminine pursuits, foremost among them marriage. And the young woman Bessie Watty (Saffron Coomber), who nearly derails Morgan Evans’s plans to go to Oxford, seems no more than a plot device.
If you’re going to revive a play, which in its time has inspired films led by the likes of Bette Davies and Katharine Hepburn, perhaps this is the way to do it. The question, though, is whether The Corn is Green is worth reviving at all.
|What||The Corn is Green, National Theatre review|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
22 Apr 22 – 11 Jun 22, 19:30 mats Wed & Sat at 14:15 Dur.: 2 hours 40 mins inc one interval
|Price||£20 - £89|
|Website||Click here for more information and tickets|