by Penelope Skinner.
Theatre on the Fly Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 2 September 2012.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 August.
Something to chew on but not all digestible.
Things aren’t as they first seem in Fred’s Diner. For one thing it’s in the West Midlands rather than the wild west. For another, within Andrew D Edwards’ candyfloss décor there’s a collection of people with loss and death behind them. And affable-seeming Fred, whom everyone likes, eats-up the lives around him. He’s given middle-aged Heather, with her troubled past, a job, but despite her evident fitness, won’t make her manageress, wanting someone younger.
The more mature woman stays behind doing a thorough job, while youthful, self-obsessed Chloe’s always seeking cigarette breaks and early ends to shifts. Yet, while Fred makes fun of Chloe, he promotes her in the face of Heather. But it’s his daughter Melissa who’s life he’s consuming, mocking her university application because he wants to keep her at home for reasons that seem increasingly sinister.
He’s brought Melissa up alone since her mother died, and has never hit her, though the fear he might would be reasonable given his verbal attacks and physical proximity. As often, violence alternates with over-sentimental softness and the way all this impairs the daughter’s life is well-delineated in Cush Jumbo’s performance. Melissa is a troubled spirit when her father’s shadow falls across her existence, generous-spirited at other times.
A highly capable, dedicated cast in Tim Hoare’s production – which suffers only in trying to fill-out the Diner with non-speaking ‘extras’, who can’t repay any attention given them – bring each character to life, though in different ways. Olivia Poulet’s irresponsible Chloe is comic, but not a person to give responsibility, while Tracey Wilkinson’s movingly portrayed Heather is a detailed picture of someone trying to rebuild their life, always trying, hiding disappointment, unable to trust anyone, before a final Sidney Carton moment of self-sacrifice.
Paul Hickey does a lot to match Fred’s dark and cheery sides, but the character and situation ultimately seem contrived. Like Penelope Skinner’s play, for all its early humour and later plot revelations.
Still, it’s been wonderful to have Chichester’s temporary Theatre on the Fly around, celebrating the Festival’s 50th anniversary. Something similar to celebrate the 51st would be excellent.
Greg: Laurence Dobiesz.
Fred: Paul Hickey.
Melissa: Cush Jumbo.
Chloe: Olivia Poulet.
Sunny: Raad Rawi.
Heather: Tracey Wilkinson.
Director: Tim Hoare.
Designer: Andrew D Edwards.
Lighting: Richard Howell.
Sound: Tom Meehan.