Eureka Day at the Old Vic
Laughter, weeping, silence: three ideas that best encapsulate the experience of watching Eureka Day. If another had to be added, it would be “revolution” because that is what the writing of Jonathan Spector and the direction of Katy Rudd have managed to accomplish.
This is a simple story about a public health scare that disrupts the ecosystem of a progressive private school in Berkeley, California. Putting on a show that so closely links to the vaccine debate could be either insanity or ingenuity – thank goodness that director Katy Rudd’s work belongs to the latter category. The cast expertly handles the themes of racism, classism, death and vaccination, helping to challenge the audience to look inward, all while making them laugh.
It is difficult to name just one or two actors on-stage who stand out because every one has understood the assignment and proven they are a master of their craft. Helen Hunt, who plays the role of progressive mum Suzanne, artistically uses the silence to pull on the audience’s heartstrings, while Susan Kelechi Watson (who portrays Carina) acts as her benevolent antagonist. Watson’s body language plays as much a part in her portrayal as the words that come out of her mouth. With just a slight twitch of the nose or a click of the tongue, she manages to hold the audience and direct them where she wants them to go.
The relationship between Ben Schnetzer (as Eli) and Kirsten Foster (May) is perhaps the most intriguing, as it begins playfully and progressea to something much deeper that captivates all who are watching. Though their relationship on-stage is not integral to the script, it provides a supportive foundation on which everything else is set. Schnetzer’s lively and vacuous portrayal of Eli in the first half, juxtaposed with the more serious, heavily burdened Eli in the second, draws on the talents of the actor. The harrowed look on his face amidst the chaos and frivolity of the scene just before the interval lays claim to just how quickly life can change from one moment to the next.
Last, but by no means least, Mark McKinney’s depiction of Don really is a work of art. On the surface, the character comes as comic relief to cut through some of the more tense moments of the play. However, Don also reminds us of the need to come together as a community, whether for reassurance that we are not alone or to unite against a common “enemy”. McKinney’s jovial disposition is the glue that gels together this near-perfect cast.
Eureka Day comes with trigger warnings, which the theatre makes very clear in the programme and on its website – however, these triggers are dealt with in a sophisticated and moving way, giving the audience room to connect with the characters’ feelings. It is amazing to see some of these previously taboo subjects starting to enter the realm of theatre to be explored on-stage. If theatre continues to move in this direction, it will be nothing short of a miracle.
Eureka Day is at the Old Vic from 6th September until 31st October 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch actor Helen Hunt talk about the show here: