by Lesley Storm.
White Bear Theatre 138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ To 30 January 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 5.30pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7793 9193
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 January.
Challenging view of middle-class behaviour from the late-forties West End.
A play with this title might seem soft-going for director Andy Brunskill’s Tough Theatre, returning to the White Bear, but Lesley Storm’s 1949 drama reveals its own toughness as the happy outer layers of its middle-class Chelsea family strip away to reveal the tensions underneath.
It’s a canny contrast and follow-up to Tough’s recent Hippolytus. Like Euripides, the once high-profile Storm examines an intense relationship between mother figure and adult son. Neither offers a happy outcome.
Storm works on a less cosmic scale than Euripides, but the impact of repressed desire remains disruptive within the conventions of middle-class life. As with R C Sherriff’s Home at Seven the following year, trouble begins when a routine is disrupted: mother Alicia is late back from the shops.
And when she arrives home, she’s changed from the happy person who left. For at first, all is happiness. The play opens with the laughter of Alicia’s son Roy and fiancée Louise. Roy’s sister Thea is pregnant, and Alicia fond of her soon-to-be daughter-in-law.
Tensions within this apparent bourgeois paradise emerge between Roy and father Robert; before the play ends they’re arguing fiercely across the seated Alicia. In tune with the times, Alicia’s relationship with her son is implied, with a striking act-end line that gives the title garment renewed significance.
Storm also identifies the start of deeper psychological awareness – the central investigation is done by a doctor rather than detective. Designer Mike Lees aids this, turning the White Bear into a theatre-in-the-round, placing actors and audience at close-quarters, the comfortable furnishings soon contrasted by the troubled respectability.
The men are all decently played, the women often more than that – fittingly for this female-focused family drama. Amy Barnes is absolutely the right sort of girl a mother-in-law can believe she’s glad to see marrying her son, Charlotte Powell increasingly impressive as the concerned daughter and Maggie Daniels a strong centre, moving from bright surface cheeriness to an anxiety that’s dismissive of her own behaviour, making credible the final report of a preference to suffer for her actions rather than dare to admit their underlying cause.
Louise: Amy Barnes.
Robert Christie: Keith Chanter.
Alicia Christie: Maggie Daniels.
Bennett Hawkins: Gary Heron.
Roy Christie: Nick Lawson.
Thea Christie: Charlotte Powell.
Nannie: Linnie Reedman.
Director: Andy Brunskill.
Designer: Mike Lees.
Assistant director: Genevieve Girling.
Assistant costume: Sarah June Mills.