Theatre Review – Giving at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs
The current production in the Hampstead Theatre’s Downstairs space (due to end on Saturday) is a fascinating exploration of philanthropy and charitable giving. Why do people give? Is it ever really altruistic or do people give just to be seen as “doing good”, or to highlight their own wealth? Should those facilitating such giving care about the reasons for it and should we even care about those reasons if the outcome is that the recipients of such donations are better off?
Hannah Patterson’s play presents all these questions in a though-provoking and enjoyable production, in which Laura (Sinead Matthews) is tasked by her magazine’s editor (who also happens to be her married former lover) Jonathan (Dominic Rowan), to write a profile on a successful and high profile businesswoman Mary Greene. The focus of the piece is to be Mary’s huge charitable donation, which is the largest single pledge by an individual to date in the UK.
Laura, already skeptical as to the motivations behind such gestures meets both Mary (Sylvestra Le Touzel), a formidable woman and tough interviewee and Mary’s “Charitable Giving Advisor” Michael (Simon Manyonda), who seems to exert a great deal of influence over his client’s decisions, while in the process taking a percentage for his broking-style American firm, calling in to question whether he simply wants to make a profit by any means necessary.
I thoroughly enjoyed Giving. Its theme wasn’t one I’d seen on stage before and it certainly made me think about the role of philanthropy in society today (especially here in the UK where it is less common than in America) and the reasons that drive individuals to make charitable donations. The three main characters of Laura, Mary and Michael were fascinating to watch interact, as their differing viewpoints often led to some uncomfortable exchanges. In particular the interview scenes between Laura and Mary were brilliantly acted and staged, with the veneer of politeness barely masking the friction between them. It was very believable and made me as an audience member feel awkward for them! Le Touzel’s portrayal of Mary was excellent, bringing to life a woman who you wanted to admire, but who you found yourself not liking a great deal. She reminded me of characters I’ve come across in the real world and you believed that Laura would be on dangerous ground were she to cross her!
The other strand of the play is about giving and receiving love and our ability to do so, which is cleverly weaved in to the story through Laura’s relationships. I liked how different Michael was from Jonathan and the writing of the relationship between Laura and Michael (wonderfully played by Matthews and Manyonda) means, as their affection for each other develops, so does the growing conflict Laura faces as her article begins to take shape. I really did find myself rooting for them.
Top marks for maximisation of space also need to go to designer Lucy Sierra, whose use of furniture able to effortlessly disappear in to the walls when not needed was ideal for a play which moves quickly from scene to scene, in the small theatre space.
Sometimes the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs may be overlooked, but Giving yet again proves that the material it produces is just as important as that in the main house and with tickets at a maximum of £12 it is great value for money. If you have a chance to catch Giving before it closes on Saturday, it’s well worth the effort.
Giving continues its run at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs until Saturday (11th June). Running time is 1 hour 35 minutes (no interval). For more information visit the website: https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2016/giving/