This review was originally written for The Public Review.
The assassination of J F Kennedy still holds as much fascination in people’s imagination today as it did fifty years ago and the subject of this play is the key player in the event. The play recounts the time when Lee Harvey Oswald has just married his wife Marina and arrived back in Texas from the Soviet Union. It covers the period up till the assassination and the Commission set up afterwards to investigate the events. It is presented as a mixture of domestic drama, with recreation of the domestic scenes between the couple and Oswald’s mother Marguerite and court room type questioning at the Commission with Marina and the mother. While the dialogue in the Commission scenes is verbatim, the domestic scenes are recreated by the writer Michael Hasting.
The play paints a disturbed domestic life for Oswald as he is volatile and unstable and struggles with an on off relationship with his wife. His mother is concerned but helpless and his wife is amazingly resilient and forgiving given his jealousy and unreasonable behaviour. Under the direction of Alex Thorpe, the confrontations are quite physical and the sheer volume of them is at times difficult to watch. Most of the scenes with Oswald are intense and loud for a small space but this gives energy to the piece.
Overall, the play lacks dramatic momentum and the constant domestic confrontations can be quite wearing. There are certainly a lot of minute logistical details which are perhaps useful for the commission’s investigation, but they provide surprisingly little insight and revelation as to the motives or events leading up to the assassination. The piece does clearly spell out the confused domestic arrangement and the lack of understanding of Oswald’s thoughts even by those closest to him, providing a good explanation as to why he is such a mystery. Some of the unexplained findings and conspiratorial theories are briefly mentioned but merely as a footnote at the end.
Adam Gillen plays Oswald who is in constant conflict with himself and at the very limit of self restraint. Gillen has the posture of a rutting stag: elbows out, chest puffed up and a bubbling menace. Gemma Lawrence as Marina is doting and tries sincerely to make the relationship work but the script does not provide enough to explain why she keeps faith in the relationship. Hilary Tones plays the mother with complete emotional detachment from the events which explains Oswald’s not entirely balanced upbringing. But Tones has an evening to forget: from a wavering accent to messing up her lines and missing an entry cue while playing the character as if she is doing an upbeat Sally Fields’ impression.
Altogether a mixed evening and perhaps an explanation as to why it has not been shown in London for 40 years. Maybe the numerous publications and documentaries on the subject matter over the years have diluted the impact of the play but no doubt it still holds an interest for most.