Minerva Theatre, Chichester
The Minerva opener for Festival 2023 is Amy Herzog’s award-winning play 4000 Miles. A compassionate, inter-generational snapshot of the unfolding relationship that develops between a grandmother and her grandson. Directed by Sir Richard Eyre and starring Dame Eileen Atkins, both making a welcome return to Chichester. Herzog, a recipient of the Horton Foote Playwriting Award from the Dramatists Guild of America, and known for drawing on her own family history, has modelled the character of Leo on one of her cousins and Vera on her grandmother. Even the set, to an extent, mirrors her grandmother’s apartment.
This insight into two complex characters is well suited to Chichester’s small intimate space, though it was originally planned for the Old Vic, before the pandemic put a stop to it!
21-year old Leo arrives without warning in the middle of the night at his grandmother’s Manhattan apartment. He is at the end of the epic West to East Coast bike ride, tragically marred by a fatality enroute. Asking no questions Vera offers him a bed and over the next 3-4 weeks this odd couple learn to live fairly harmoniously together.
Peter McKintosh has excelled with his cluttered, comfortable interior and copious bookshelves containing literally hundreds of books plus many more strewn across the floor.
Nell Barlow (Bec) and Elizabeth Chu (Amanda) provide brilliant support playing Leo’s ex- girlfriend and a girl he picks up in a bar. Making his Chichester debut is Sebastian Croft (Heartstopper and Horrible Histories:The Movie) who totally inhabits the character of grief-stricken, emotionally damaged hippy Leo. Estranged from his mother, devoted to his sister, he is constantly struggling to move forward and his passionate portrayal is exceptional. Eileen Atkins is remarkable, perfectly embodying the strong-minded 91-year old idealist Vera, battling with ageing frailty and outliving all her contemporaries. Her sharp tongue and vibrant personality shine through as Leo’s youth and her maturity bond together.
The complexity of emotions that run through the play are shot through with humour throughout the 95 minutes duration and the performances of huge skill are entirely compelling. Despite Eyre and Atkins both being in their 80’s they have lost nothing of their immense talents and spirited charisma.
A highly recommended drama, playing until 10th June 2023.
Reviewer: Jill Lawrie
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlen