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A CurtainUp London London Review
Stroke of Luck

"Mum's only been in her grave . . . her urn for a week. " — Cory
Stroke of Luck
Tim Pigott-Smith as Lester and Pamela Miles as Helen (Photo: Simon Kane)
Stroke of Luck gets its world premiere in the Park Theatre, a delightful newish space in Finsbury Park. It is written by American septuagenarian Larry Belling whose career included acting as theatrical agent for more than 60 Broadway and off-Broadway shows. Although some American humour works well in the UK, some also fails successfully to cross the Atlantic.

Tim Pigott-Smith plays Lester Riley, a retired radio and tv repair man who is paralysed down his left side after suffering a stroke and lives in a retirement home called Bayside Manor. Lester's wife Helen (Pamela Miles) has died suddenly and it appears that she was the glue that held their diverse family of four children together. Their son Franklin, whom we never see, has a disability and is in special care where his mother used to volunteer after her career as a nurse.

The boys are all named after American presidents. Monroe (Andrew Langley) the eldest son is an accountant whom his father doesn't trust with his assets, instead preferring to use the accountants of the local Mob family. Cory (Kirsty Malpass) their daughter has very bad OCD with more compulsive hand washing than Lady Macbeth, and is making a comfortable living gambling at poker (illegally) on the internet. I suppose the advantage over casinos is not having to handle the cards.The younger son is Ike (Fergal McElherron) who has just been released from prison. The revelation as to why Cory feels unclean didn't really convince.

At their mother's memorial service, Lester drops the bombshell that he is to marry his Japanese nurse Lily (Julia Sandiford) who is 37 years younger. The discovery that after a lifetime as a repair man to a Mob family, Lester has amassed a million dollars, later found out to be $2.3 million, astounds them as they realise that Lily and her existing son will be Lester's heirs.

The acting from Tim Pigott-Smith and his real life wife Pamela Miles is excellent and they have pleasing parts together, tender and affectionate. Their fantasy scenes after her death are charming as this couple married for 41 years show their affection for each other and Lester regains the use of his left side. These scenes contrast with the embarrassing and cringe making besotted billing and cooing, and an even more implied sexually explicit scene between Lester and his fiancée Lily.

My feeling is that the children's parts are underwritten as we have only a sketchy idea of their character, not enough to empathise with them. Unfortunate when you think how easily step families unite against a newcomer threatening their inheritance.

I will not spoil what happens next but for those sitting upstairs in their sight line, after the interval, are a pair of matching spoilers. The set changes are an economical turn of one of the back panels to indicate different places. The back set is th ouitline of a tree to reflect the Japanese quote, "Never leave your offspring unattended with twisted branches."

The problem with Stroke of Luck is that none of the characters are really likeable and are hard to identify with, unless of course you are 70 and about to marry a very pretty 30 year old Japanese nurse.

Let us hope that the Park can hire a Literary Manager who can pick plays to match their exciting venue.

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Stroke of Luck
Written by Larry Belling
Directed by Kate Golledge

Starring: Tim Pigott-Smith, Pamela Miles
With: Andrew Langtree, Kirsty Malpass, Jon Glover, Morgan Deare, Julia Sandiford, Fergal McElherron
Designed by Bob Bailey
Sound: Theo Holloway
Lighting: James Whiteside
Running time: Two hours 20 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7870 6876
Booking to 2nd March 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 31st January 2014 performance at the Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP (Tube: Finsbury Park)

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