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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp London Review
by Lizzie Loveridge
Armstrong plays a septuagenarian, Jack, who has only a few months to live. Jack lives with his daughter Anna (Lia Wiliams) who at 40 is about to be married for the first time to Sholto (Patrick Robinson), a fellow lawyer, whose family came to the UK from the tiny West Indian island of Barbuda, near Antigua. Jack's son, Michael (Tim McInnerney) is an out of work actor with a failed marriage. In the play, Jack looks back on his life with disappointment and, to Portia (Alibe Parsons) Sholto's mother, confesses an incident where a man was killed in Aden.
Stephenson gives us a gentle and wry look back on the substance of one man's life but there is not really very much there to involve the audience. There are plenty of amusing anecdotes and exposure of Jack's irrational prejudices as he battles with a younger and more free thinking generation. Much is made in the blurb of Jack's interest in maps and genealogy but this is only used to make two points. The cartography interest results in his being given a map, actually a helicopter bird's eye photographic view of his town, showing where he lived, went to school, was married, joined up in a rather artificial way with a heavy red line. Jack feels there is more to his life than this rather simplistic map. I've just realised Aden didn't make the cut. The genealogical interest is largely incidental but Anna enjoys thinking that she was related to not only the slave master but to Dido, a presumed slave, only to be told by Sholto that what matters is what she is now. Most of the discussion about whether to tell someone they are dying has been superseded by new guidelines in the Health Service.
I felt Jack was a lot older that the seventy year olds I know, both in the physical sense, although he has a terminal disease and is wheelchair bound, and in attitude, he is cantankerous and bigoted. Alun Armstrong does very well with the part and I do not think that Ian Holm's performance would have lifted the play. There are two scenes of dancing at the end of each act, a marriage dance, which struck me as contrived and irrelevant. I see from the text that Sholto is meant to be a dancer as well as a lawyer but this didn't happen. Perhaps Stephenson's point was to compare life chances for Jack (who said he would have liked to be an opera singer rather than a bookkeeper) and Sholto. Lia Williams is, as ever, delightful, as the dutiful daughter who cares for the grumpy old man. Tim McInnerney has some funny lines to counter Jack who, in Julie Burchill style, voices his contempt for thespians. Michael counters with, "He's frightened to go to the theatre in case people think he's homosexual." James Hayes has an amusing cameo as a mealy mouthed priest.
Ruari Murchison's set is a pleasant suburban garden with an old map projected at the rear, sometimes replaced by old photographs from a family history collection. There is Indian music between each scene though why, I am at a loss to say.
Jack's conclusion as his life draws to a close, from reading Schroedinger's Cat and a quick dip into quantum physics, is "I started out as a particle, travelled as a wave and I'll arrive as a particle." It is a disappointing end to a disappointing play. Somehow Stephenson's writing here doesn't haunt as it does in her other plays.
LINKS to Curtain Up reviews of Shelagh Stephenson's other plays
The Memory of Water
Five Kinds of Silence (London)
An Experiemnt with an Air Pump
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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