Crooked Wood – September 2009

6/10

By Gillian Plowman, based on the BBC TV film “Number 27” by Michael Palin

Directed by Anthony Falkingham

Company: Jill Freud Company

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 11th September 2009

This was a good, fun evening. Again, a play which had originally been written around twenty years ago proved remarkably accurate for today. An old lady, Miss Barwick (Jill Freud), resists the pressures of unscrupulous property developers to sell the only house she’s ever lived in, and along the way we get some laughs and even some cheering (when the villain of the piece fell through the stairs). And a couple who were headed down the wrong path get a chance to change their lives, and that of their soon-to-be child, for the better.

The set was remarkable for such a small-scale production. A door with entrance hall on the left, stairs hidden behind the wall next to it, panelling and a door off to our right, and lots of furniture and ornaments representing the clutter of several generations, though in this case a lot of them were valuable antiques.

Jill Freud played the fluffy but shrewd old lady very well. It was a treat to see how she dodged all the awkward questions, and used every tool in the book to get the men visiting her to fix up the house, now falling into a serious state of neglect. Richard Gibson played Andrew Veitch, the ruthless developer who finds it impossible to use his nastiest tactics on the dear old lady, especially when she tells him her father left a lot of money to Barnardo’s when he died, Veitch being an orphan brought up by that institution. (Personally, I’d ask to see a copy of the will, but he drank it in like mother’s milk.)

His wife, Sally (Penelope Rawlins) works for Sotheby’s, and is busy revamping their expensive house, spending all her husband’s hard earned money before it’s actually been earned. She’s particularly touched by Miss Barwick’s generosity, giving her a lot of old books which she knows how to restore and care for. There’s also a public spirited chap called Quentin Gilbey, who used to work with Andrew when they were both young and idealistic. Now he’s qualified as a lawyer, and spends his time helping other ordinary people block the rapacious schemes of property developers. He’s happy to help Miss Barwick when the developers’ man on the council slaps a notice on the house for being unsafe.

Finally, the piece wouldn’t be the same without a nasty piece of work, and in this case it’s a chap called Murray Lester (Simon Snashall). He’s Andrew’s boss, and spends at least half of his time with his mobile clamped to his ear and the other half telling Andrew to get a move on. Swearing is not so much optional as mandatory, and it’s his accident with the stairs, after a pretty vicious attack on the old girl, that gets the cheer. One of the best lines closed the first half, when Miss Barwick answered Andrew’s phone for him, and reports Lester’s message verbatim: “Don’t take all fucking day.”

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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