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Posts Tagged ‘Jennifer Daley’

Playwright Tom Wells has written two of my favourite plays of the last 10 years, The Kitchen Sink & Jumpers for Goalposts, plus two other ‘miniature’ gems, Phil in Space & Drip. He specialises in warm, feel-good, funny stories with ordinary but well developed characters, anchored in communities he knows very well. This new work trades uproarious humour for gentle poignancy. It’s set near a bird sanctuary on the Yorkshire coast over several years. The four characters are linked by a number of things, notably grief and loss.

Lauren works in a cafe near the bird sanctuary. She’s lost her mum, whose best friend Angie runs the cafe. Her widowed dad Dennis is a frequent visitor. He’s jealous of Neil, who runs the bird sanctuary, for no obvious reason. Lauren has moved out of home and Dennis has put her room on Airbnb. His first tenant is Ed from Birmingham, who’s come for an interview at the bird sanctuary. He’s lost his mum too. It’s the end of the season and the cafe is closing to make way for a new one at the Discovery Centre.

We move forward to future seasons, with Ed now employed at the bird sanctuary and the cafe inexplicably still open. Ed & Lauren become an item, then Lauren becomes pregnant. We learn of Angie’s loss and realise they are all united in grief. Dennis clearly has feelings for Angie but is unable to do anything about them. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but in 90 minutes Wells’ creates characters you can’t help liking and caring about. It oozes authenticity and has bucketloads of charm, underpinned by the sadness that pervades the characters’ grief. Director Tessa Walker adds a Shakespeare style music and dance coda which provides an uplifting ending.

All four performances are beautifully drawn. Jessica Jolleys’ Lauren has a no-nonsense attitude and a steely independence about her. Sam Newton gives Ed a combination of naivety and nerdiness, socially clumsy. With Dennis it’s what he doesn’t say that matters and Matt Sutton’s performance is perfectly understated. Jennifer Daley invests Angie with a gentleness and the sadness of someone who has never, and never will, fully recover from her loss. Bob Bailey’s uber realistic design has the audience sitting on two sides, peering into the café as if from outside its windows, as voyeurs.

A lovely play that deserves to be seen by so many more than the 30 or so Hampstead Downstairs can accommodate socially distanced.

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I love the Theatre Royal Stratford East and I love its new tag line ‘A People’s Theatre’ because it is – and this play is in the right home. A BIG play; an ambitious, brave, epic, sprawling, passionate, angry, funny drama which wears its heart on its sleeve. It can best be summed up by Philip Larkin’s most famous poem ‘they fuck you up, your mum and dad’. In this case, sometimes literally!

The four Prospect boys are the present generation of a south London dynasty of Irish descent, two of whom are in relationships with sisters of West Indian descent. The play centres on professional footballer and eldest boy Matthew’s return from rehab, which he apparently entered to avoid a drug test (nine months earlier!). His youngest brother has converted to Islam after imprisonment at an impressionable age. Son number three is pursuing a pre-op tranny. Son number two seems to be the normal one, married with twin girls, until the skeletons in his cupboard, courtesy of his wife, come out later. Mother Bridie is devoted to her boys and you can’t help but love her – well, at first…..

It takes a while to get into the time shifts as we move back and forth to learn the sources and causes of the family’s dysfunctionality, and indeed of the family of the Lockwood girls who’ve ‘married’ into this. The characters are larger than life and the dialogue is as sharp as a knife. There is never a dull moment as you move from laughter to shock and back again on the emergence of a new fact or the use of a wisecrack. You can forgive the lurches into implausibility, melodrama and excess because it presents you with a dramatic feast the equivalent of an entire 13-part TV series in one evening.

Staged in front of mirrored walls (there’s no hiding place) its fast-moving high energy stuff with a complete set of stunning performances. All four Prospect boys (in order, Matthew Mark Luke & John!) are brilliantly cast and played by James Farrar, Frankie Fitzgerald, Jamie Nichols & Gavin McClusky. Louise Jameson is outstanding as the matriarch. Sasha Frost, Dominique Moore, Jennifer Daley & Ashley Campbell are all superb as the boys respective wives and lovers.

I’m not sure why it has taken me eight years, since Bashment at the same venue (http://www.whatsonstage.com/tickets/theatre//L2001081771/.html – mine is the top review!)  to see another play by Rikki Beadle-Blair, but I hope it won’t be another eight before the next. I said then, and will say again – Joan Littlewood would be proud. You’ll have to accept the language and you’ll have to stomach some difficult subject matter, but if you can and you do, you will be richly rewarded.

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