by Frank Marcus.

Arts Theatre Great Newport Street WC2H 7JB To 29 October 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7907 7092.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 October.

More period-piece than classic, in a revival with some strong performances.
June Buckeridge’s blue-wallpapered London flat merges into an abstract brown web, suggesting a wireless-set looming around domestic comfort in Ciaran Bagnall’s set. For in Frank Marcus’ intriguing if sometimes creaky 1965 play, June is the actress playing Sister George, much-loved district nurse in a BBC rural radio soap-opera.

In modernising the series for sixties sensibilities, loveable Sister George is being killed-off, just because she is so loveable. But only so loveable; her ginger-haired publican nemesis is rising though the ratings.

June’s broadcasting awards are displayed where room and radio meet, but fittingly George’s funeral wreaths sit in the domestic area. Actress and character have become one for people; even Meera Syal’s June keeps adopting George’s voice.

Buckeridge derides the programme’s new dysfunctionalism, yet off-mike gets wildly drunk, and shares her flat in a sadomasochistic relationship with Alice, or ‘Childie’. A female Peter Pan, Childie takes refuge in her dolls, while swinging her lightly-clad body and long blonde hair in apparent innocence.

Childie leaps into a chair, as if avoiding a mouse, when there’s a fight, letting her little-girl voice help her through childish enthusiasms and sulks around the butch, be-trousered June. BBC executive Mercy Croft is subtler in her smart suit, but there’s no doubt why she offers Alice an alternative home.

Despite the rituals June forces on Alice, Elizabeth Cadwallader makes clear in moments of rebellion and a varied voice that her childish manner, with its continuous movement, is an act. Alice knows what she wants, and when Sister George’s demise threatens her, she finds a new refuge from life, leaving the once-dominant June alone in her final indignity.

Latched on, alas, is a psychic neighbour, whom Helen Lederer plays to the full; it’s a pity director Iqbal Khan didn’t persuade her to less mitteleuropean elaboration, which is like a comic sketch, without much comedy.

Syal shows June’s aggressive fear and shock of the news of her axing, without exploring it far. The production grabs hold in the contrast between Belinda Lang’s suave executive and Cadwallader’s seductively submissive Alice, hinting that a more sophisticated battle of wills lies ahead.

June Buckeridge: Meera Syal.
Alice McNaught: Elizabeth Cadwallader.
Mrs Mercy Croft: Belinda Lang.
Madam Xenia: Helen Lederer.

Director: Iqbal Khan.
Designer/Lighting: Ciaran Bagnall.
Sound: Mark Dunne.
Composer: Colin Cattle.
Costume: Pam Tait.
Hair/Make-up: Diana Estrada.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Rafaelle Marcus.

2011-10-11 13:52:05

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