A Prayer for Wings by Sean Mathias. The King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 to 23 November 2019. 4****. William Russell

A Prayer for Wings
By Sean Mathias.
The King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, Islington N1 1QN to 23 November 2019.
Tues- Sat 7pm. Mat Sun 3pm.
Runs 90 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 0207 226 8561
Review: William Russell 1 November.
It is half a century since Sean Mathias wrote this moving, sad play about a young girl caring for her disabled mother. It is even more powerful today than it was then given the extent of the problems we face about care of the elderly or the disabled and dependent. Rita has looked after her mother, who has MS and is a wheel chair user spending most of her time in bed in the disused chapel in Neath created perfectly by designer Lee Newby where they have taken up residence, since she was ten. She is now in her late teens and the burden has become intolerable. Mother is demanding, prudish, religious – God is called upon a lot – and worries about what Rita gets up to with the unemployed young men who linger at the end of their road. Rita, sexually repressed, is letting them indulge in chat and tamper for cash until one day she takes one youth home in return for a fiver. One thing leads to another, but she does not lose her virginity just her innocence.
This production, which started at the Swansea Grand Theatre, is directed by Mathias who has elicited superb performances from Alis Wyn Davies as the cruelly damaged Rita and Llinos Daniel as her demanding Mam. As the boys in her life Luke Rhodri delivers three sensitively observed performances, each quite different. Nothing much happens. Mam gets more demanding, Rita’s frustrations become dangerously close to making her resort to murder so strong is her need to escape, and the world of prostitution looks like lying ahead for her. I am not quite sure what age Rita is meant to be, but one suspects she is about seventeen or eighteen and Mam, who conceived her out of wedlock and lost her husband to another woman almost immediately after Rita was born, is probably in her late forties. She has buried the disappointments in life in a fog of religiosity and a liking for the tiny treats they can afford – baked beans, a Mars bar. Alis Wyn Davies creates a splendidly blowsy Rita, erupting in sudden rages at the injustice of it all and then producing an overwhelming love for her demented, demanding mother. Maybe she is a shade older than one thinks Rita would be but it is a touching, deeply felt performance. Llinos Daniel, fingers poised in almost lethal fashion, lies in bed demanding attention, cups of tea, toast and jam, and then rejecting things, makes a genuinely cruel monster but a pitiful one made what she is by life. But will Rita’s prayers be answered? Will she fly?
This is a revival to treasure and Mathias and his cast have done his play full justice.

Mam: Llinos Daniel.
Rita: Alis Wyn Davies.
Tom. Jim and Phil: Luke Rhodri.

Director: Sean Mathias.
Set & Costume Designer: Lee Newby.
Lighting Designer: Robbie Butler.
Sound Designer & Composer: Adam Cork.
Production Photography: Ali Wright.

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