By David Hare
Directed by Peter Hall
Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton
Date: Monday 16th October 2006
This was a little disappointing, though that may have been partly my attitude – I was pretty tired and couldn’t raise a lot of enthusiasm for going out.
The play concerns a mother and daughter who fall out over the daughter’s choice of partner. The disagreement isn’t helped by the daughter being pregnant. The events take place between 1979 and 1995, so we see quite a lot of development over the years. The daughter (Amy) and her partner have children, and eventually marry, while the mother (Esme), a widow, takes financial advice from a friendly neighbour, who, it turns out, is a commissioning agent for Lloyds of London. She ends up not only broke but owing bucketloads of money, and has to continue working to try to pay off some of her debts. Interestingly enough, she’s one of those who don’t agree with suing the agents who got people into those syndicates – her point of view is that she was happy enough when the money kept rolling in, so now she just has to swallow her medicine.
She’s an actress, mainly on the stage, and that’s one area of contention with Amy’s partner – he’s a bit of a prig, and thinks the stage is dead. Film and TV are the only media that matter. At the start, when he still seemed quite a nice bloke, he admits to wanting to make movies, then he ends up savagely sneering at them on TV, finally graduating to movie production. Amy seems to spend her time looking after the children, and although we don’t learn the details, we find out in the final act that she’s died. Her ex-partner, now married to another woman after running off with her, attempts a rapprochement with Esme, but is rebuffed. There’s also Esme’s elderly mother-in-law, who goes increasingly gaga, and, supposedly, the ghost of her long-dead husband, a well-known painter in his day. Personally, apart from a few references and lots of painting on the walls, I didn’t get much sense of his presence.
The strength of this production for me was the relationship between the two women. Both had made their choices, and were sticking to them. The mother wasn’t happy that her daughter had chosen a intellectual who wasn’t prepared to have a proper relationship with her daughter, while the daughter, naturally enough, wanted to be left alone to make her own decisions. Funnily enough, the mother then goes and makes a disastrous choice in her next male companion, so both women seem pretty well matched to me. Apart from this, there was some fun here and there, especially with the pompousness of Amy’s partner and his attitudes to art. And the opening of the third act, where Esme has had a hard time carrying out an operation while filming in the studio, was good fun too. But time and again I find myself asking what these plays are for. It’s interesting to be reminded of the precarious nature of the financial boom in the eighties, and the acting was fine all the way through, but I’m not sure I got a lot out of it that will stay with me, or provoke new ideas and fresh attitudes. As I say, it may just have been how I felt that night, but I suspect from past experience it’s a deeper problem than just one play.
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me