By Keith Pattison courtesy of The Young Vic
Set during the Second World War in an imaginary southern Californian town named Ithaca, this adaptation of Saroyan’s The Human Comedy is a heart-warming tale of human strength, self-sacrifice and generosity of spirit during the darkest of times. We follow the story of Homer McCauley, a teenager beginning his first job as a telegram delivery boy in order to support his widowed mother, sister and younger brother, Ulysses.
Classical references abound from the Homeric character and location names to an 80 strong Greek-style chorus, comprising members of the local Southwark community who accompany professional actors on stage. This veritable army of actors creates an impressively rich atmosphere.
Some moving scenes include the bereaved folding flags over the coffins of their dead and the ghostly appearances of Homer’s dead sibling and father. These scenes contrast sharply with the prosaic bedtime routines and small-town romances of day to day Ithacan life. The telegraph office is a central feature; the humming wires bringing the inevitable devastating news from the distant war.
There is, however, an unfortunate tendency to the over-sentimental and idealised which can lead to some unconvincing scenes. It is difficult to believe, for instance, that Homer’s mother would encourage him to ‘give away all you have’. Dumaresq’s libretto can, at times, be disjointed, failing to keep the story line together; we are left with the impression this story might have more stamina as a novel than as a play.
Some notably good individual performances include Jos Slovick as Homer, Jordi Fray as Ulysses and a strong voice from Brenda Edwards. A highlight is Phil Bateman’s small band who perform Galt MacDermot's music with flair and vitality. Jon Bausor’s sprawling set is excellent, complete with rustic furniture and a poster hoarding which cleverly doubles as a bunker for war scenes.
By Rachel Phillips
The Human Comedy is showing at the Young Vic until 18 September. Book tickets here.