By: Matt Charman
Directed by: Sarah Frankcom
Venue: Cottesloe Theatre
Date: Wednesday 15th August 2007
This was an interesting new play. Without getting into any great debate, it shows an alternative form of relationships, somewhat akin to polygamy but more open-ended. Maurice Pinder, a scaffolder with his own business, has three “wives” at the start of the play. We don’t find out all the details straightaway, and I quite liked the teasing way in which the play took its time to clarify the relationships. I’ll cut to the chase: Maurice (Larry Lamb) has been divorcing one wife and then marrying another for some time. His first wife, Esther (Sorcha Cusack), couldn’t have children, so she agreed to her husband taking another wife in order to have a family. This was Fay (Clare Holman), who provided them all with a son, Vincent (Adam Gillen), now seventeen. Next up was Lydia (Martina Laird), who has a young baby, provisionally called Fergus. When the play begins, we get to see these wives plus Vincent, before Maurice brings home Rowena (Carla Henry), who’s heavily pregnant with another man’s child. This man was beating her up, so Maurice decided to take her into the family.
The relationships are apparently stable at this point. Vincent is about to go to university, Esther is the overall mother-figure, taking care of everyone, Fay is working (loosely) at telesales, and Lydia is a Reiki practitioner who prefers to live in the caravan in the back garden. They seem to get on fine, and in some ways the play almost became dull in the early stages, with very little conflict or dramatic interest. The performances were fine, and I felt I was getting to know the characters, but there wasn’t quite enough bite to it for me. All that changed when Fay brings home Jason (Steve John Shepherd) for a shag, against family rules. He’s disturbed by the setup, although he likes Fay, and despite his impending marriage (this is Tuesday, and the wedding is on Saturday) wants to continue their relationship. She doesn’t. Unfortunately, this means she’s pissing off a local planning inspector, and as Maurice is in the process of building an unapproved extension on the back of the house, Jason starts to take his disturbance out on the family.
This was the only character who didn’t ring true for me. He represented the “average” reaction, combining fascination with how such an arrangement works, with revulsion at such a different set of norms. However, his abrupt changes of attitude made it hard to relate to him as a real person, while the other characters seemed more real, more rounded, and I could relate to their experiences.
Anyway, Jason’s antagonism isn’t the only problem. Lydia is the restless sort, and finally decides to leave them and travel with her baby. This leaves a huge gap in the family structure, and Maurice tries to fill it with Irene (Tessa Peake-Jones), his office manager and a bossy sort. When Vincent comes back from university, he finds the situation seriously changed (though not so much in terms of the extension). His actual mother, Fay, is drinking way too much, and taking to even more meaningless shags in car parks, presumably to find what she’s not getting from Maurice on their one night a week together. Esther is even more withdrawn, trying to be supportive, yet being even more excluded by Irene, who doesn’t seem to have got the hang of the sharing nature of the family yet. Rowena seems to have settled in, but even she is planning to leave once she gets some money together. She’s already married Maurice, so what we get to see this time is the wedding ceremony between Maurice and Irene. They stand in the sitting room, facing each other, reading out prepared vows. Maurice’s are well-worn; they’re the same ones he’s used for each wedding from the sounds of it. Irene seems to be looking for someone she can devote herself to, but lets it slip that she doesn’t see the need for any of the others once she and Maurice are hitched. Fortunately, the rest of the family, so noticeably absent from the vows, turn up in force with some atrocious behaviour, and put her off altogether. The play ends somewhat weakly, with Vincent breaking up the extension, and Fay, Lydia and Rowena talking about their futures away from Maurice. There’s a line about how the two babies have open futures, and then the lights go out. Personally, I would prefer a stronger ending.
The set was a section of the house, from the front door and sitting room on our left, through the extension into the garden and down to the caravan at the end. To our right, there was a wooden gate, which Vincent preferred to climb over rather than go through. The small, domestic details helped to make the family situation seem more normal, not particularly weird or troublesome. It certainly favoured Maurice, although keeping so many women happy was obviously beyond him. Esther hits the nail on the head when she bursts out with the truth – that none of the others would have been there if she could have had children.
On the whole, the relationships had their problems, and perhaps no one of them was worse than any individual couple faces, but they did seem to be compounded when so many people were attempting to live such intimate lives. It was all too easy for Maurice to get another, younger wife to keep him supplied with kids, rather than tackling his main relationship with Esther, and either living together childless or exploring the other options. I wasn’t sure if his aversion to convention was a cause or an effect of his lifestyle. I did wonder if any of the women had considered what would happen to them when he died, and perhaps no one but his latest wife had any claim on the estate. These are the kind of practicalities the play doesn’t go into, and that’s fair enough, but I felt there was a lot more to explore in this subject, and this play didn’t go quite as deep as perhaps it could have.
Having said all that, this was still a very enjoyable experience. There was a lot of humour, all the performances were very good, especially Adam Gillen as Vincent, and the time flew past. A good way to spend the afternoon.
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me