Peggy For You by Alan Plater, Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage, London NW3 to 29 January 2022. 4****. William Russell.

If nothing else this terrible year for the theatre ended for me on a high note. Alan Plater’s play is more of a memoir than a dramatic piece in which he presents an imaginary day in the life of Peggy Ramsay, a literary agent who for some forty years reigned over British theatre. Any playwright worth his medals was her client – they ranged from David Hare to Alan Ayckbourn, from Robert Bolt to Eugene Ionescu, from Joe Orton to PLater himself. She was a monster in many ways, demanding, imperious, infuriating, but she loved the theatre and she loved plays. Playwrights trembled before her. In itself, while interesting, the memoir is not really the stuff of great theatre but Tamsyn Greig who plays Ramsay delivers a master class in comic acting. Her Peggy is bewitching, enchanting but terrifying, a creature of moods, impulses and utterly irrational behaviour. She holds the stage centre stage and one cannot take one’s eyes off her as she copes first with Simon (Josh Finan) a gauche young man who has sent her a play, his first, clearly the Orton figure, and opts to go see it in a room above a pub that night instead of to the National Theatre and another Chekhov. Then into the office comes Philip (Jos Vantyler), a 31 year old playwright who has hit the big time, made it to writing scripts for Hollywood and who could be pretty well any of her big name clients. Things get even better in the second half when Henry (Trevor Fox), a north country playwright – probably not a million miles from Plater himself – turns up and announces he is leaving her list. Their battle of words sparkles possibly because while everyone else is a foil to Peggy Trevor Fox proves almost her match. Had Ramsay been an actress or a television personality she would have become a national treasure and the play itself would seem stronger, but she was a theatrical treasure known to the profession but not to the world. But it matters no as in the hands of Greig she comes to life with all her foibles. It is a memorable performance. Richard Wilson has directed it perfectly, keeping the action moving briskly from Peggy’s office to the outer one in which her put upon secretary Tessa (Danusia Samal) has to deal with endless phone calls and make sure Peggy knows who she is talking to. Tessa’s name is, of course, not Tessa but Peggy once had a Tessa so all secretaries are Tess. The Alans – Plater and Ayckbourn – are one and the same to her. As to where Yorkshire is, she sends out for an atlas. One story is that she apparently told Laurence Olivier to f*** off at an event. Challenged she admits that she did but she did not have her spectacles on and she though it was Peter Hall. It is the last in the series of Hampstead Originals and with Greig on top form it has ended splendidly – applause all round.

Simon: Josh Finan.
Henry: Trevor Fix.
Peggy: Tamsin Greig.
Tessa: Danusia Samal.
Philip: Jos Vantyler.

Director: Richard Wilson.
Designer: James Cotterill.
Lighting Designer: Johanna Town.
Sound Designer: Tingying Dong.
Costume Suervisor: Sian Harris.
Production Photographs: Helen Maybanks.

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