by Bill Naughton.

New Vic Theatre Etruria Road ST5 0JG In rep to 26 July 2011.
7.30pm 23-24 May, 6-7 June, 1, 2, 5, 6, 22, 23, 25, 26 July. Mat 2.15pm 23 July.
Audio-described 23 July 2.15pm.
Captioned 5 July.
Post-show Discussion 5 July.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS: 01782 717962.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 May.

New Vic ensemble capture spirit, time and place.
Between the dramatic heaven where plays live on as classics and the hell of oblivion most face, there’s something of a limbo where those that don’t stay in the mainstream but continue to nag for attention hang around while their ultimate fate’s decided. Such a play becomes in time a ‘period piece’.

Bill Naughton’s late fifties radio-turned-stage play is one of these, in the best sense. It reveals a lot about its period, and still speaks today, while not quite transcending its original age.

It may still prove to have a classic’s resilience, partly because Naughton spreads sympathies between the generations in this northern family on the class border, but firmly planted in respectable streets of terraced houses rather than among the suburban semi-detached.

There’s youthful rebellion – very much in the air when the play premiered between Look Back in Anger’s 1956 call-to-arms and the Beatles’ early-sixties’ opening of the door to a new generation. Two of the young adult offspring kick against home’s stifling constrictions, where Father Rafe controls family lives, while mother keeps the peace.

Most loyal to dad is Florence, a teacher on the edge of marriage and the only one of the younger family members with any sort of future organised, the others living in a vague Billy Liar world. Louise Kempton shows her attending to Rafe’s words, though in the end she follows husband-to-be Arthur. Andrew Pollard makes clear in firmly denouncing Rafe’s ways, at the tea-table, that he has a similar authoritarianism in himself.

Rafe’s underlying motivation is clear. Richard Elfyn’s angry outburst when talking about the thirties Hunger Marches forcefully expresses what he’s determined to avoid. The one weakness of Gwenda Hughes’ sympathetic revival is allowing Rafe’s later explanations to veer away from specific reasoning towards generalised emotion.

Victoria Gee’s headscarfed improvident neighbour shows how the never-had-it-so-good age of late-fifties affluence was finding new routes to financial desperation. And in the New Vic’s all-round strong ensemble cast, Joanna Brookes catches the maternal mix of love and worry for all the family with the patient endurance and practical wisdom life has built in her.

Daisy: Joanna Brookes.
Harold: Matt Connor.
Rafe: Richard Elfyn.
Betsy Jane: Victoria Gee.
Wilfred: Oliver J Hembrough.
Hilda: Joanna Higson.
Florence: Louise Kempton.
Lucy: Emma Noakes.
Arthur: Andrew Pollard.

Director: Gwenda Hughes.
Designer: Lis Evans.
Lighting: Peter Morgan.
Sound: James Earls-Davis.
Voice coach: Mark Langley.

2011-05-23 11:16:43

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