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The Skin of Our Teeth
by Lizzie Loveridge

The watchword for the future. Enjoy yourself!
--- Mr Antrobus
The Skin of Our Teeth
Indira Varma as Sabina
(Photo: Keith Pattison)
Thornton Wilder's seminal 1942 play The Skin of Our Teeth has been chosen by David Lan as his last major production before the building closes for rebuilding in July. And there were moments in this amazing play when it was as if the building was collapsing in front of our eyes.

In the first act when Indira Varma as the maid, Sabina, steps out of character to turn to the audience and complain about the complexity of the play, half the platform she is standing on drops a foot to the astonishment of the audience. David Lan has taken Wilder's original moments of meta-theatre and adapted them for his cast and London. On Press Night there was an added spice when references were made to the importance of that particular performance. David Troughton explained after the second interval that four actors had been in an accident and would not to be able to continue. I saw Benedict Nightingale, critic of The Times join in the spirit of the sham by attempting to leave the auditorium, presumably anxious to write his copy, only to be directed back to his seat.

The play's cyclical element remains as topical as ever as we watch mankind, and the Antrobus family in particular, struggle against the elements, against wars and famine, temptation and decadence. The first act has two delightful creatures from the past, a scaly dinosaur and the cuddliest of red long haired mammoths. The middle act is beautifully realised as Lan's Atlantic City draws from serpents and the Garden of Eden to show us, before the Flood, the company of pleasure seeking, sunglassed serpents sticking out their lascivious tongues to a backdrop of garish advertising of the day. They slither and snog on the beach beneath the Ferris Wheel. In the final act, war dominates the scene as it would have in 1942 when Wilder was writing The Skin of Our Teeth.

Maureen Beattie as Mrs Antrobus is the glue that holds the family together. Dependable and strong, her role is essentially to support her husband. There were moments in the final act when I wondered if we were watching Mrs Miniver, such was the saintly dedication to her family of Mrs Antrobus. David Troughton lumbers through his inventive phase to his time as Mister President vulnerable to the fawning and flattery of the sycophants of Atlantic City. Indira Varma, attractive and sexually desirable, is his mistress and maid, forever representing temptation as she tries to lure Antrobus away from his wife and family to marry her. Bette Bourne is a sinister, pipe smoking Fortune Teller.

Richard Hudson once more creates the traverse stage for the Young Vic, where the action takes place on a central swathe with the audience sitting on either side. It works well for the space and is involving for the playgoers. His Atlantic City set is brash and boisterous, sea-side, pleasure dome kitsch. The costume designer has 1940s authenticity in Mrs Antrobus' coats and silk dresses.

David Lan's realisation of this complex play sixty years after it was first written is not only interesting, but it is topical as we realise how cyclical is our existence. As one of the characters says, "When you're at war you think about a better life; when you are at peace you think about a more comfortable life." The Young Vic, under Lan's leadership is confirmed as one of London's leading theatres, rivalling the Almeida, the Donmar Warehouse and the Royal Court for innovation and exciting theatre and with the prospect of the building and comfort it deserves.

LINKS to Curtain Up's reviews of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth
The Skin of Our Teeth in New York
The Skin of Our Teeth in the Berkshires

Links to Other Thornton Wilder Reviews at CurtainUp
The Matchmaker
Our Town (Off- Broadway)
Our Town (Broadway)

The Skin of Our Teeth
Written by Thornton Wilder
Directed by David Lan

Starring: David Troughton, Indira Varma
With: Jonas Armstrong, Maureen Beattie, Bette Bourne, Abby Ford, Junix Inocian, Emma Kershaw, Alex Kew, Camilla Litalien, Yael Loewenstein, Simon Rice, Golda osheuvel, Jason Rowe, Tim Sutton, David Calder
Designer: Richard Hudson
Costume: Jackie Galloway
Lighting Designer: Bruno Poet
Sound: Paul Arditti
Music: Tim Sutton
Movement: Kate Flatt
Running time: Three hours with two intervals
Box Office: 020 7928 6363
Booking to 10th April 2004.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 4th March 2004 Performance at the Young Vic Theatre, The Cut, Waterloo, London SE1(British Rail/Tube: Waterloo/Southwark)
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