Theatre Review - 'Rocket to the Moon'

Posted on: 18 April 2011 by Alexander Hay

Clifford Odets' 1938 play makes a mixed but welcome return

A bit of impromptu dentistry is about to commence

Opportunity is put in the way of a quietly desperate man in Clifford Odets’ 1938 play Rocket to the Moon, revived in a new production directed by Angus Jackson at the NT’s Lyttleton auditorium.

Stunning, stockingless, ruthless in her youth, Cleo Singer arrives on a stifling summer’s day in Ben Stark’s New York dental practice and turns his married, humdrum world upside down. She promises passion and escape if only he know how. But Stark is not alone in his frustrated dreams and in those shared offices there is rivalry over a woman discovering life, a woman who is hungry for expression and for love. And she is no push over, she is looking for the real deal.

This slow burning, overlong (the 2 ¾ hour production would have benefitted from being trimmed and tightened) Depression-era drama is given a definite boost by Odets’s acerbic New York repartee – “None of you can give me what I’m looking for: a whole full world with all the trimmings!”

Odets himself wrote one of the best movies ever about newspaper ethics, Sweet Smell of Success, and although this could be considered a minor work, it does benefit from a fine, realistic production by Angus Jackson, with the bitter legacy of the Great Depression shown when one of Ben’s impoverished tenants reveals that he has had to sell his own blood to survive.

Joseph Millson is excellent as the under-achieving, vacillating dentist Ben Stark, intent on squandering his one last chance of happiness, while Keeley Hawes, whom most will remember from television roles in Ashes to Ashes and Upstairs Downstairs, makes a strong stage debut as Ben’s jealous, bossy, domineering wife, Belle, and rising star Jessica Raine, with her tendency to pout, pose and prowl around the surgery, brings the right mix of sexiness, innocence and vulnerability as the new secretary Cleo who charms all the men around her. There is also good support from Nicholas Woodeson as Bell’s no-holds-barred father, and Peter Sullivan as Ben’s colleague who owes three months rent and whose only patient that day is a distant relative coming in for a free clean.

In all, despite its drawbacks this is a play which holds our attention throughout and in which Odets’s mix of mordant observation and idealistic yearnings is clearly in evidence.

Plays in repertory until June 21

Box office: 0207 452 3000

Press: 0207 452 3333

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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