Royal Court Theatre, London
The Sweetest Swing in Baseball (Royal Court Theatre, London) – Carole Woddis
*** (three stars)
Rebecca Gilman and the Royal Court certainly have a big thing going. This is the fourth play they have premiered and the second master-minded by artistic director, Ian Rickson. The last time he took a Gilman play and nursed it into explosive fire was, as it turned out, the valedictory stage appearance of Katrin Cartlidge. She gave a devastating account of a female journalist under threat from stalking in Boy Gets Girl.
One of the impressive things about Gilman is the consistently moral thrust she gives her enquiries which has previously included links between deprivation and violence (The Glory of Living) and racism in white ivy-league academe (Spinning into Butter). Here, it’s an unexpected parallel between the questionable dictates of artistic success and, say, a baseball player who wins the World Series, to show the pressures both are under to continue hitting `home runs’.
This unlikely conjunction co-exists within the schizoid figure of Dana Fielding, a successful contemporary artist now feeling the heat who, having tried to commit suicide, takes refuge in a mental hospital and the comforting arms of an alter-ego, one Darryl Strawberry, sometime baseball ace.
An old ploy – truth-telling through pretence – Gilman’s new twist enlivens a play that commands sympathy but, one major speech apart, feels muffled. X-Files’s Gillian Anderson, on her second West End outing, however seems far more at home here. The pressure is off her in Sloane Square and with her painfully skinny frame and rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights haunted vulnerability she persuasively embodies resistance and rediscovered independence of spirit, ironically, through false identity.
But then irony runs through Gilman like a blue vein. Rickson might, with advantage, have played it with a tad more wellie.
The Sweetest Swing in Baseball runs at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs to May 15, 2004
First published in The Herald in May 2004