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Theatre Review - Carver

The Independent, July 2005

The American short story writer Raymond Carver was a master of dialogue and pared down narratives that bristle with insight and immediacy. So it's not surprising that his stories make for scintillating drama.

Robert Altman's 1993 film Short Cuts spliced several of Carver's stories together. Now, veteran theatre director Bill Gaskill has turned five of them - What's in Alaska?, Fat, Cathedral, Intimacy and Put Yourself in My Shoes - into a play. Or rather five short plays.

Originally adapted by Gaskill with a student group at RADA, Carver opens at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, East London, next month (((July))) with a cast of 10, including Bruce Alexander, Jack Klaff, Rosemary McHale and Kathryn Pogson.

For Gaskill - who worked alongside Laurence Olivier as a founding director of the National Theatre and was artistic director of the Royal Court between 1965 and 1972 - Carver's appeal is powerful and direct. "He writes wonderfully, with a precision of phrase that is just remarkable and which captures the depth of feeling that lies beneath the apparently quite trivial lives of ordinary people."

"The stories have an immediacy that draws people into Carver's world - you don't have to try and make them theatrical. The dialogue is all there and - in this production - the narrative has become part of the dramatic performance."

Carver's writing is suffused with an atmosphere of melancholy and yet, says Gaskill, there's something uplifting in all his stories. For instance, in Intimacy - where a man pays an unannounced visit to his former wife - there's an act of contrition. And in Fat, a waitress serving a heavily overweight man discovers an empathy within herself that others around her lack.

For Gaskill, who will be 75 this year, working at the Arcola - a converted textile factory - is an exciting venture. "Most fringe theatres are claustrophobic and intense but the Arcola offers the opportunity of being intimate and epic at the same time," he says. That sounds like the ideal backdrop for Carver, who died aged 50 in 1988, but whose blending of the everyday with universal human truths earned him the title of ‘The American Chekov'.

* Carver runs from July 6 to August 6 at the Arcola Theatre, 27 Arcola Street, London E8, (020 7503 1646).