Review – Saturn Returns, Finborough Theatre

Do you remember those days? The days when you used to cram yourself into a tiny audience in a tiny auditorium where half the people knew half the actors and half the people knew you. The days when you used to see new writing every week if not every night, and not the kind of new writing you see at the Court which has been ticked and checked and audited but new writing which feels like you’re discovering it, like you deserve it. Remember those days, the days when everything was possible and front of house consisted of a cashbox and a clipboard but it didn’t matter because you’d heard great stuff about this playwright on some blog and you were the first person to see it, and Billington wouldn’t care but he doesn’t know anything anyway.

Remember those days? Those were the days.

The problem with reminiscing (I’m getting to the play, promise) is that it’s easy to look back on another time and see only the good bits. The problem with seeing fringe theatre every night (and the reason the word national looms so large on my tagcloud today) was that so often the actual theatre at the fringe wasn’t very good, and the hot auditorium and uncomfortable seats weren’t worth the effort to see it.

Which is why the Finborough is such a pleasure. Newly enobled as the winner of the Peter Brook Empty Space award, this was a new venue for me. I’ll never know how I managed to never stumble across this gem before, but if you also haven’t then you must: it’s a gorgeous little room up a flight of stairs which has all the wonderful bits about fringe theatre without making it seem quite such hard work. It feels young and enthusiastic and like a community but you don’t spend the whole time wondering who rigged that light precariously perched above your head or whether all the seats have been stolen from a local secondary school.

Community and charm is all fine, of course, but what really matters is the quality of what’s happening on stage. If what I saw last night – the first preview of Saturn Returns – is anything to go by, then the quality of what’s happening on stage is very high indeed.

Richard Evans
Saturn Returns is based on the astological theory that the eponymous planet returns to to the degree occupied at the time of birth approximately every 29.5 years, which is conveniently when a person happens to cross over a major threshold and into the next stage of life. You can look up the details, not to mention diagrams and song lyrics which have been based on the idea, on Wikipedia but as far as we should be concerned the relevance is that playwright Noah Haidle uses this as the premise to present three incarnations of Gustin Novak, at the ages of 28 (Christopher Harper), 58 (Nicholas Gecks) and 88 (Richard Evans), as he faces pivotal moments in his life.

Supporting him at each of these turns, and stealing the show as the undoubted star, is Lisa Caruccio Came playing his (strikingly similar looking) wife, daughter and nurse at the various time points.

This plot has enormous potential to be silly, slow, boring, overcomplicated, implausible or all of the above. But Mr Haidle’s script and Adam Lenson’s production zips along for very nicely for 85 minutes and reveals itself to be a surprisingly thoughtful play about loss, guilt, loneliness, ageing and nostalgia.

Saturn Returns runs at the lovely little Finsborough in Earl’s Court until 27 November.  Go at once.

Full disclosure: Sans Taste was raised well enough to pay his own way in most instances and has, in the past, taken something of a highroad in respect of refusing to accept comps (made much easier given that I was rarely, if ever, offered comps to high-mindedly refuse). In this instance, however, I did accept the hospitality of the theatre and received a complimentary press ticket (yes – they referred to me as a member of the “press” – watch out Charlie Spencer, I’m coming for you!). After seeing the play I felt like a complete sell out and posted a tenner to the theatre (FYI: this is illegal in many countries, do not attempt if you live in Bulgaria!)  I fear I may not be cut out for the theatre criticism big time.