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Posts Tagged ‘David Lindsay-Abaire’

I was very fond of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel. It seemed to me to be quintessentially British, so I was disappointed when it was relocated from North London to Chicago for the 2000 film. Though this musical adaptation retained its US setting for it’s Broadway premiere in 2006, it’s relocated back to London N7 for it’s UK premiere, though it is being staged south of the river!

The story of Rob, the nerdy record shop owner, and his love life felt retro at the time of the book and film, but seems even more retro today. This adaptation distills it into the tale of Rob and current girlfriend Laura, with nods to the lives of shop hangers-on Dick and Barry, and the music scene and record collector obsessions as a backdrop. There are song lists for things like break-ups and mixtapes with strict rules. Rob’s ex’s make regular appearances in a large number of flashbacks and fantasy & dream sequences.

Tom Kitt’s eclectic score has particularly good lyrics by Amanda Green and it’s extremely well played by Paul Schofield’s band (members uncredited, sadly) and very well sung by the whole cast. David Shields excellent design makes great use of the small space, with clever transformations from shop to flat and more. It’s an impressive musical theatre directorial debut from Tom Jackson Greaves whose choreographic experience shines through, and I liked his use of the space in front of the stage and the aisle. Oliver Ormson and Shanay Holmes are both very good as Rob and Laura and there’s a fine ensemble, with great cameos from Robert Tripolino as Ian, Carl Au as Dick and Robbie Durham as Barry. We even get turns from Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen (Joshua Dever)!

With all the to-ing and fro-ing across the Atlantic, it does appear to have lost its sense of place and time and become a bit of an indeterminate transatlantic anywhere, anytime. David Lindsay-Abaire’s American book has been adapted for London by Vikki Stone and it might be this, and the vanilla pop-rock musical styles, which contribute most to the loss of some of Nick Hornby’s charming source. I think it’s a very good production of an OK show. It doesn’t feel like a Broadway show and I can see why it was curtailed after 18 previews and 13 post-press performances (and why its taken 13 years to get here). I suspect it fares much better on this scale, more intimate, with a talented and enthusiastic young cast, and I was glad I caught it.

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This David Lindsay-Abaire play pre-dates Good People, his 2014 hit here in the UK, which also started in Hampstead before transferring to the West End. Though it has some similarities, it’s a fundamentally different play, more gentle and sensitive. I liked it.

Howie and Becca are trying to come to terms with their personal tragedy, the loss of a four-year-old son, each in very different ways. Howie joins a support group whilst Becca copes alone. He likes reminders but she wants them removed. Lindsay-Abaire introduces his class theme again, with Becca’s sister Izzy and mom Nat coming from a very different part of suburban New York. The family has suffered unexpected loss before, though Nat and Becca see that very differently too. Izzy announces her pregnancy, adding another car to the emotional roller-coaster.

The play explores the differing responses to grief, starting after eight months, moving forward a few more. It’s a very delicate play, not without humour, but much gentler humour than the acerbic kind in Good People. With the audience wrapped around an unelevated stage, Hampstead Theatre seems more intimate, very much in keeping with the piece. Ashley Martin-Davies set manages to contain four rooms without seeming in any way cramped, with plenty of space in the main playing area. Edward Hall’s staging is empathetic, as sensitive as the material and indeed the performances. 

Tom Goodman-Hill and Clare Skinner beautifully convey the strain events place on their relationship. Georgina Rich brings Izzy a down-to-earth plain-speaking warmth and Penny Downie gives a nuanced performance as mother Nat, who has complex relationships with her daughters as well as the ghost of her dead son. Sean Delaney has an impact much bigger than the role of Jason, the young man involved in son Danny’s death, himself trying to come to terms with it all.

The play wasn’t at all what I was expecting after Good People, which is good as it proves Lindsay-Abaire has both breadth and depth. This one is very much its own play, well structured and well written and, like the other, every moment matters. A very thoughtful and thought-provoking evening.

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A new play who’s protagonist is a working class woman is quite rare these days, so this is indeed welcome. It’s an American play, but it could just as easily be set in any British city, and its a timeless story, but it seems particularly relevant today. It’s also got one of the best ensembles you’re likely to see on any stage.

Margaret is a down-at-heel middle-aged single mum with an adult ‘retarded’ daughter who needs 24-hour care. She makes do by working in a dollar store and giving her neighbour part of her measly wages to sit with Joyce, but she’s forever late and her boss is forced into firing her. South Boston is an Irish Catholic run-down neighbourhood and jobs are hard to come by these days, but her friend Jean has bumped into Margaret’s ex Mike, now a successful doctor, and persuades her to see if he can provide work.

Her reconnection with Mike takes the play into a look at class as Margaret sees Mike as burying his past and deserting his people, becoming what South Bostonians call ‘lace curtains’, which Mike defiantly denies. Neighbour, carer and landlady Dottie is demanding rent and threatening eviction and there’s still no job, so Jean goads Margaret into a spurious claim on Mike and a whole load of skeletons come out of a whole load of cupboards. This second-half scene where Margaret visits Mike and his wife Kate at home is masterly – in writing, staging and acting.

There’s an authenticity to the story, no doubt because playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is himself South Bostonian lace curtains and his characters are well drawn and the situations plausible. There’s no padding – it unfolds in six scenes in five locations in less than two hours – and a lot of sharp humour. It works as both a personal story, a rare view of class in America and the consequences of our present economic situation on people we rarely hear from. Jonathan Kent’s staging is faultless.

Imelda Staunton has an extraordinary range and a capacity to inhabit just about any character totally believably and she shines here as Margaret. Every line is made to count and her timing is impeccable. When she got a huge laugh out of the way she said ‘you gave her a vase’ I was in awe of her talent. This is no star vehicle though, with Lorraine Ashbourne (who we see too little of on stage) terrific as Jean and the wonderful June Watson superb as straight-talking Dottie. Lloyd Owen comes into his own in the pivotal second half scene where Margaret challenges him, and Angel Coulby handles wife Kate’s switches from charming to brittle really well. Matthew Barker completes the cast in a nicely drawn performance as boss Stevie with divided loyalties and a liking of bingo.

This is a thoroughly entertaining, intelligent play performed to perfection. If it doesn’t transfer, I’ll eat my programme. Talking of programmes, Hampstead’s have become some of London’s best, full of interesting and relevant background; too good to eat!

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