Graham Greene’s The Potting Shed concerns themes of redemption, resurrection and religion. Its plot centres around a decade-old scandal which has left James Callifer rejected by his father, alienated by his family and alone in the world. He desperately wants to know what happened, but his family have little interest in raking over old coals and in re-examining ancient dark secrets.
At the end of this, I must say I was with the family: the only real mystery that arises from this production at the Finborough is how this decades-old bore of a play could be thought worthy of resurrection. One character advocates letting sleeping dogs lie. I can’t disagree.
When a key selling point of a play is that nobody’s seen fit to produce it in the last 40 years, one should be immediately suspicious. If that last production starred Cliff Richard, doubly so. And in this case, your suspicions would be justified: for every hidden or forgotten gem there are dozens of plays – like this one – which have been deservingly forgotten.
Half supernatural thriller and half paean to catholic faith, the text feels hopelessly outmoded and clunky from the beginning (not helped by some preposterous 1950s accents) before descending into a morbidly turgid state by the time we grind our way into the third act. The key problem is that all this toing and froing about what went on in the blasted potting shed (“Tell me mother! Please, you must be honest with me now!” etc, etc, ad infinitum) is building up expectations for what one reviewer called a “superbly dramatic revelation scene” which proves to be a rather unexceptional, squibbed further by an awfully dull third act.
The performances here are solid enough (notwithstanding the accents), with particular honourable mention to Paul Cawley, Martin Wimbush and Zoe Thorne who are all very good. What is really at fault here, and the reason I struggled so much to enjoy this production, is that the dilemmas faced by the characters do not feel real, the plot feels forced and the emotional engagement is not sufficient to carry the arcane context.
My advice: Put this one back in the cellar. Try again in 40 years.
(Disclaimer: the production I saw was early in the run – first night I think –
although it wasn’t billed as a preview I don’t think and clearly billed on the theatre’s website as a preview)