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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Barker’

I’n not sure how I managed to miss this play by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell first time round in 2016. The playwright has been on my radar since enjoying both When the Rain Stops Falling and Speaking in Tongues. I particularly like the structure of his plays, as I do with this one.

It’s set in Adelaide, Australia, over one year in the Price family home. They are a typical suburban family where the parents have worked hard to ensure their children get a better life. Husband / father Bob is a redundant car worker and wife / mother Fran is a nurse. They have four grown up children, the eldest of which, thirty-four-year-old Pip, herself has two girls. The middle two boys, Mark aged 32 and Ben aged 28, are both single and then there’s nineteen-year-old Rosie, nine years younger than the next sibling, who was clearly unplanned. It’s a dramatic year for all four children who between then face a separation, emigration, broken heart, corporate crime and a questioning of gender.

It covers so many issues in just two hours playing time. The parents can’t let go of their children, but the children can’t let go of them too. With children dependent on their parents for so much longer today, it seems very timely. The nature of parent-child relationships has changed in just one generation and this one family seems to embody the entire issue. It’s beautifully written, with much depth in the characterisation and complete authenticity in the situations and relationships.

The staging by Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham is outstanding too, with Frantic Assembly’s Graham adding his beautiful, delicate movement and physical theatre touches. I thought all six performances were terrific – Ewan Stewart and Cate Hamer as the loving parents, with distinctly different relationships with each child. Seline Hizli’s Pip has a difficult relationship with her mum, but they have more in common than either realise. Arthur Wilson’s Ben, spoilt my mum, is moving in posher circles, with consequences. Matthew Barker’s Mark isn’t the son dad thought he was. Kirsty Oswald plays Rosie, whose sibling relationships are defined by the age gaps, and she’s the only one who hasn’t disappointed her parents, yet. Lovely performances.

I found this a deeply satisfying, thought provoking play. The golden age continues.

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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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