John Irving is a unique modern storyteller who creates rich plots inhabited with vivid characters, much in the same style as Dickens. In The Cider House Rules, Irving weaved a tale spanning several decades about the issues of abortion and adoption.
Peter Parnell's stage adaptation of The Cider House Rules is an important play to see even if only because it so rarely gets staged. The original 1996 production in Seattle was a seven-hour, two-part epic under the direction of Tom Hulce and Jane Jones and invited comparisons with the RSC's famous eight-hour production of Nicholas Nickleby.
The Vertical Theatre Company have brought The Cider House Rules to Edinburgh, although it is now condensed into two-and-a-half hours in two parts. Still a large commitment of time on the Fringe, but not one to be missed.
There are two main protagonists; Dr. Wilbur Larch (James Sanderson) and Homer Wells (Matt Runham). Dr. Larch runs a New England orphanage called St Clouds, where he quietly performs illegal abortions. Larch protects his orphans with a tender touch, but has become an ether addict to relieve the pain of venereal disease - contracted during his one and only sexual experience with a whore. Homer is one of the orphans, who - after being rejected many times - looks set to spend the rest of his life at St Clouds, but eventually becomes Larch's surrogate son. Homer is doted on by nurses Edna and Angela (played with great humour by Rhiannon Stalinski and Louisa Theobald) and loved by fellow orphan Melony (Skilfully acted by Kezia Cole).
During his time at St Clouds, Homer learns Larch's skills as a doctor and assists in the abortions until Homer comes to his own moral conclusions and refuses to do more.
Part 1 of the play deals with Homer's time at St Clouds. In part 2, Homer leaves the orphanage and lives with the Worthington's on their apple orchard. In my own personal opinion, I think part 2 offers more for the audience in that it's more of an ensemble piece and gives the cast a chance to shine in their roles. That's not to dismiss part 1, which is as engaging and necessary as the second.
Sanderson and Runham in the lead parts both give solid performances, which could be described as much better than average for student theatre. Ross McGregor's direction is well handled and original, using the physicality of the actors to create a vibrant piece of theatre.
As chances to see The Cider House Rules don't come along that often, don't ignore this opportunity.