The Confessions at the National Theatre
A deeply personal play, writer and director Alexander Zeldin’s The Confessions explores the troubled and fascinating story of Alice, whose life transforms her from a passive housewife into a capable woman who has found her own way in an age shockingly similar to our own.
As the title suggests, the main part of the play is told retrospectively as a confession from an elderly Alice (Amelda Brown) to her son, Leander (Lilit Lesser) as he tries to come to terms with the many trials and tribulations his mother – based on Zeldin’s own – has lived through. We witness most of the action from a young Alice’s perspective (Eryn Jean Norvill), with her older self often standing on the sidelines and occasionally interfering when the memories become particularly personal – such as a traumatic encounter with a fellow art historian.
The life that Alice leads is largely one of an average woman: suffering under the yoke of a patriarchal society, she first learns to leave her working-class and conservative family, and then her much more progressive yet sadly hypocritical friends when she’s at university, before she finally finds some sort of equilibrium in the end. It’s a tale well-told with excellent dialogue and some particularly touching scenes, proving everyone has a story worth telling.
Brown and Norvill’s acting is strong throughout and they build off each other in ways that convince the audience that they are two sides of the same Alice, even if years of experience lie between the two: it’s a great transformation to witness Norvill as she becomes less shy and nervous. Their fellow cast members are equally apt, most of them taking on multiple roles throughout Alice’s life as the audience witnesses it through various episodes.
There are some smaller issues, largely relating to the general pacing of the piece in which the extremely potent climax is still followed by a good half-hour of runtime that seems oddly anti-climactic: altering the placement of events in a less linear fashion might have solved this issue while retaining the same punch. But these are minor concerns and don’t significantly detract from what is otherwise a powerful experience. An exciting story about an ordinary and interesting woman, it’s definitely worth a watch for everyone.
Images: Christophe Raynaud de Lage
The Confessions is at the National Theatre from 22nd October until 4th November 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The Confessions here: