by Bill Naughton.
Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB To 18 February.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 4, 11, 15 Feb 2pm.
Audio-described 16 Feb.
BSL Signed 9 Feb.
TICKETS: 01204 520661.
then New Vic Theatre Etruria Road ST5 0JG 22 Feb-17 March.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm (no performance 29 Feb, 12 March) Mat 10, 17 March 2.15pm.
Audio-described 17 March 2.15pm.
Captioned /Post-show Discussion 13 March.
TICKETS: 01782 717962.
then Stephen Joseph Theatre (The Round) Westborough YO11 1JW 30-31 March.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 29 March 2.30pm 22 March 1.30pm.
TICKETS: 01723 370541.
then Grange Arts Centre Rochdale Road OL3 6EA 11-28 April 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat 18, 28 April 2.30pm.
Audio-described 24 April.
BSL Signed 27 April.
TICKETS: 0161 624 2829.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsde3n 28 January.
Things don’t swing so easily when seen in this perceptive light.
It’s advertised as a piece from the Swinging Sixties, and a list of performers associated with the decade, lead by Michael Caine, foots the 1966 film-poster reproduced in the Octagon programme. By 1966 London’s pendulum was well into its stride, along with much of the country. But Bill Naughton wrote the original radio play in 1962, this stage version coming the following year. He was already in his fifties and the radio title Alfie Elkins and His Little Life is hardly heroic.
If the sixties saw themselves in the film, what’s now clear is how the characters are conditioned by earlier decades. Alfie apart, for he’s no more attuned to conventional morality than Don Juans ever have been. Benign-mannered in his sexual voraciousness, he just can’t see anyone else’s point-of-view. ‘How was it for you’ is beyond him, and David Ricardo-Pearce offers a fine flat manner, casually helping shift the scenery, never wantonly cruel but causing widespread harm.
A decade later the title character of Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquests trilogy was similar, getting through a family of females while claiming he just wants to make people happy.
The difference is in the women. By 1972 Norman’s victims articulate their opinions even if they fall for him. David Thacker’s perceptive production shows these girls of the fifties hadn’t learned to bite back. Some survive, growing rich or, in the case of the eldest, undercutting Alfie with a younger toyboy.
But they don’t fight him. The hardest-hit limp hurt away: northern runaway Annie cooking, cleaning then leaving as instructed, Lily painfully taking the bus home after an unofficial abortion. The humiliation of one, the pained scream of the other, the hospital ward before the interval, the sparse mass-produced décor with which designer Lis Evans evokes the sixties as gimcrack, latter-day 1950s, all anchor the play in emotional reality.
There’s strong acting throughout, including minor characters – the radio play origins show in some of the scenic transitions and briefly-seen characters – notably John Branwell’s sternly self-protective abortionist.
A fine, and finely-produced, antidote to nostalgia: back to those days you will not want to go.
Carla/Annie: Vicky Binns.
Joe/Sharpey/Mr Smith: John Branwell.
Siddie/Lily Clamacraft: Isabel Ford.
Gilda/Vy: Barbara Hockaday.
Alfie: David Ricardo-Pearce.
Humphrey/Perc: Eamonn Riley.
Doctor/Flo/Ruby: Francesca Ryan.
Harry Clamacraft/Frank: Kenn Sabberton.
Director: David Thacker.
Designer: Lis Evans.
Lighting: Daniella Beattie.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Movement: Lesley Hutchison.
Assistant director: Jyothi Kuna.