STROKE OF LUCK
by Larry Belling.
Park Theatre (Park 200) Clifton Terrace Finsbury Park N4 3JP To 2 March 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7870 6876.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 February.
Not one in danger of setting the pulse worryingly racing.
They DO write them like this any more. Larry Belling’s comedy of later life is the kind of piece, its sentiment barely covered by hard-edged wisecracks, that half-filled commercial theatre for decades, but which seemed to have died-out amid the late 20th-century’s faster-paced, harder-edged style.
It’s designed for those who shake, rattle and roll with tablets, not music. In this age of senior youthfulness Tim Pigott-Smith’s Lester Riley sports a baseball-cap in the wheelchair where a stroke has left him. On the wall hangs his late wife’s portrait. Death and disability are life’s context.
But their generation has passed life’s real sea of troubles, represented in Lester’s two sons and one daughter – there’s a fourth child, in a mental institution, while one son’s fresh from prison and the other an obsessive money-maker.
Belling uses that old standby, a legacy, to drive his plot. As the children quarrel, various common elements are thrown-in. There’s the friendly local mafia man repaying a favour, the stunningly attractive young Japanese nurse Lester declares he’s going to marry, haunting reappearances by his dead wife. And a final situation-swiveller of a twist, startlingly satisfying though hardly credible.
It also allows a comfortably conventional resolution. For this is a play with very conventional values just beneath the kookie surface. And, despite some good lines, the comedy usually seems slightly effortful. Tim Pigott-Smith’s Lester offers whirls of technique but his brilliance only shows the insubstantiality of the character.
The best moments are the quietest, where recognisable humanity, rather than surface energy, predominate. Among the more embarrassing in Kate Golledge’s energetic production is Nurse Lily’s express change of bed-sheets, with Pigott-Smith’s Lester in the bed, chortling excitedly.
Contrast the gravity of moments when his whole being is engaged as a vision of his dead wife Helen, the emotionally affecting Pamela Miles, appears. It isn’t sentimental, but a depiction of the way people haven’t departed from the consciousness of those who loved them.
As their daughter Cory, Kirsty Malpass makes a strong impression by treating her obsession with cleanliness, and agitation as parts of her personality rather than comic devices.
Monroe Riley: Andrew Langtree.
Cory Riley: Kirsty Malpass.
Barry Gillis/Ettore Santangelo: Jon Glover.
Father Riordan/Dr Gunther: Morgan Deare.
Lester Riley: Tim Pigott-Smith.
Nurse Lily: Julia Sandiford.
Helen Riley: Pamela Miles.
Ike Riley: FergalMcElherron.
Director: Kate Golledge.
Designer: Bob Bailey.
Lighting: James Whiteside.
Sound: Theo Holloway.
Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.