Staged at the distinguished Finborough Theatre in London, The Return of Benjamin Lay made its debut last week. Despite the inherent intrigue of its main character, the play grapples with a disjointed narrative that presents a somewhat muddled theatrical experience. That's notwithstanding undeniable talent of its leading actor, Mark Povinelli.
Povinelli delivers a performance that's vibrant, versatile, and compelling. He exerts an indomitable command over the stage, epitomizing a character of such legendary renown. He effortlessly breathes life into a character as legendary as Benjamin Lay!
However, the play unfortunately falls short of allowing the full exploration of the man behind the legend. With the storyline skimming abruptly from one narrative to another, the audience is left hanging, as concepts and thoughts remain incomplete. Though the narrative fragmentation could be seen as a stylistic attempt to convey the complexity of the character, it largely confuses the audience rather than immerses them in the story. The absence of clearly delineated time and space further obfuscates the plot, forcing spectators to draw heavily from their historical understanding to make sense of the show.
Perhaps the greatest pitfall of "The Return of Benjamin Lay" is its lack of a definitive message or purpose. The crux of a compelling play lies in its capacity to challenge or provoke thought within its audience, an element noticeably missing in this performance.
While Povinelli's skillful performance is an undeniable and impressive highlight, the writing of the play could use a little more depth. Even with a character as fascinating as Benjamin Lay, the play barely scratches the surface of its rich source material. This results in a fragmented narrative that, despite Povinelli's captivating performance, falls short in delivering a fulfilling or insightful story.
In conclusion, “The Return of Benjamin Lay” at Finborough Theatre does offer a magnificent display of Mark Povinelli's acting prowess. However, it struggles to provide a coherent, gripping narrative, leaving the audience longing for a more profound understanding of its titular character.
The intimate Finborough Theatre served as the ideal venue for this production, with the play making clever use of the natural light filtering in through the windows. This unadorned approach offered a raw realism, the changing daylight subtly affecting the atmosphere on stage.
Watched June 2023 at Finborough Theatre.