Soppy sentimentalist Simon Stephens is at the National. At least, that is how a newcomer to Stephens’s work might see the dramatist after watching this revival of his 2002 play, which features an optimistic pop song and a sunrise. Old hands, by contrast, would have been steeling themselves for the brutality and violence that often characterise Stephens’s works.
Port is set in bleak Stockport, which happens to be the home town both of Stephens and director Marianne Elliott, and centres on Racheal (Kate O’Flynn), the working-class heroine who is a permanent presence on stage.
Elliott’s terrific production is anchored by a life-enhancing performance by O’Flynn, who plays Racheal as a kookie but a tough one. Over eight short scenes, she grows from a gobby 11-year-old in 1988 to a young woman trying to break free of the cycle of lives wasted by lousy education, dead-end jobs and the casual violence of men such as her father.
Stephens’s work has rarely been as tender. Or as moving. Or as watchable. (www.nationaltheatre.org.uk)