Peter Quilter’s drama, 4000 Days, is a tug-of-love story with a difference. Caught in the crossfire between a lonely, possessive mother and a besotted but deluded male lover is Michael, who for nearly a month, escaped the bickering by being in a coma.
The play opened at London’s Park Theatre last night and it throws up new avenues to explore about the nature of relationships.
As the audience entered the auditorium they were met with Alistair McGowan’s Michael, unconscious in a hospital bed, and being watched by his mother. If the actor, comic and impressionist was genuinely hooked up to his bedside monitor then he was clearly in distress as the little beeps of his heart rate positively raced across the screen.
The news played on the room’s TV and no-one took much notice until a lasting tribute came on for the late actor Alan Rickman who was, as he was to so many others, a friend of Park Theatre. It was a very subtle and restrained acknowledgement of the great actor’s contribution to both the venue and the stage.
The arrival of Michael’s partner, Paul, sparks a vitriolic battle of words between him and Michael’s nasty, selfish mother, Carol, that continues for the entire performance.
And that’s what keeps 4000 Days interesting. It’s not Alistair McGowan’s lacklustre performance as coma victim Michael that you take notice of but Daniel Weyman’s superbly played Paul and Maggie Ollerenshaw as mother Carol as they trade insults over the hospital bed.
Paul, he later acknowledges himself, isn’t the most dynamic of personalities – he does something uninteresting in marketing – but he is a loving man who has spent a decade sharing his life with Michael.
But Michael, who suffered a blood clot, comes out of his coma not remembering – conveniently – the last 11 years. He doesn’t know who Paul is and the pair have to try and rebuild their relationship, if that’s possible under the evil eye of Carol who wants her middle-aged son home for good.
“You painted him beige,” says Carol accusingly. “You stripped away all that was special about him.” And, surprisingly, he agrees. The men’s relationship was fine but not extraordinary. Paul encouraged his lover to drop his artistic aspirations and work in insurance. Was their relationship salvageable?
It’s not often people get a chance to reboot their lives and Peter Quilter’s exploration of love and memories questions our resolve to make-do, sticking our heads in the sand to avoid confrontation and the hard conversations.
Paul is convinced they had a great relationship but, when forced to confront the truth, admits that perhaps he was fooling himself.
Ollerenshaw’s feisty mother figure is far from familiar. She smokes while watching her son struggle for life. “I’d prefer you not to give him cancer while he is sleeping!” rages Paul. But she is immune. “We mothers reserve the right to be very disappointed” (at our children’s choices) she counters.
McGowan is disappointing. The humour is weak and he tries too hard to play a stereotypical gay man. He hasn’t found the right voice for him. It’s all a bit too affected and not convincing.
But Weyman and Ollerenshaw give passionate and fearless turns. Paul genuinely looks as though he hasn’t slept for weeks, his face is haggard and his demeanour overcome with exhaustion at trying to carry on working while fitting in round-the-clock hospital visits.
There’s a desperation in his voice as he fights to make his lover remember him while fending off the thrice-married mother who is doing her best to reclaim her son as a companion for her old age.
4000 Days runs at Park Theatre until February 13.
Peter Quilter’s 4000 Days is an exploration of love and relationships, questioning our determination to make-do and stick our heads in the sand to avoid confrontation and the hard conversations.