REVIEW: GABRIEL (Richmond Theatre) ★★★★

Moira Buffini GabrielMoira Buffini has been on my watch list since seeing her fantastic play ‘Hangbagged’ a few years ago, so when her new play ‘Gabriel‘ was announced I jumped on that like a cat in a warm laptop. And Buffini didn’t disappoint!

Set in Nazi occupied Guernsey in 1943, ‘Gabriel’ follows a group of related women who, while trying to co-exist with their occupiers, discover a body washed up on the beach. With no identifying clothes to indicate if he’s German, English or an escapee from one of the forced labour camps, the women have to hide him from the enigmatic but sinister Colonel Von Pfunz.

Buffini is an expert story-teller, teasingly undressing each layer and inviting the audience to peak in at these women’s lives. Audible gasps are heard throughout the auditorium as the play’s denouement as the story draws to a tragic and unexpected close; a statement to Buffini’s skill at crafting tension.

As the Nazi Von Pfunz, Paul McGann gives an extraordinary performance. Always completely in control of the scene, McGann seductively rolls the dialogue over his tongue, pulling the audience into a false sense of security before striking with furious anger. And as masterful as McGann’s performance is, he is equally matched by Belinda Lang as a widow desperately trying to keep her family’s secrets safe while killing it in a satin evening gown. The opening scene is a glorious monologue for Lang who rails against the unfairness of Nazi occupation in Noel Coward-esque drawl, only to find out that the Nazi she assumed couldn’t speak English has understood every word.

The rest of the cast all give excellent performances but it’s hard to compete with McGann and Lang’s engrossing sparring that drives the story through.

Carla Goodman‘s ocean washed set creates a close sense of claustrophobia, with no room for characters to breathe without irritating the other which perfectly mirrors the frustrations of everyday life in occupied territory.

‘Gabriel’ is an impressive production with outstanding performances, but as with Buffini’s previous plays, it is her knack for creating an engrossing story that takes the biscuit.

Reviewed by Roz Carter

Photo: Robin Savage