This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com
Rooted in the tough neighbourhood of South Boston, Margaret is one of the “good people”. She struggles to make ends meet and looks after a disabled daughter, resorting to constant wisecracks to mask her pain. She is an habitual victim of life’s domino effects, in which minor incidents lead to major ones, with the same inevitable consequences – no job and no dollars to pay the bills. We first meet her as she is again being fired and she then turns to Mike, who she dated as a teenager, not to rekindle the flame, but simply to get help with finding gainful employment. David Lindsay-Abaire’s comedy/drama is an unflinching dissection of the social divisions in modern America and, most likely, modern anywhere in the developed world. Mike has moved away from the lowly neighbourhood, trained to become a doctor and transformed into what the South Bostonians call a “lace curtain”, living in an affluent leafy suburb. Margaret and Mike are now poles apart – different lifestyles, different values, even different ways of looking at a cheeseboard. She plays Bingo in the hope of winning enough to pay off her rent arrears, he tries to preserve a marriage in which the biggest practical worry is whether the red wine is corked. Imelda Staunton is at the very top of her game right now and her Margaret is an inspired and inspirational creation. She is a battling mini-warrior, feisty yet vulnerable, wounded yet never defeated. Moving effortlessly between comedy and drama, as indeed does the play itself, she gives a performance to be looked upon in awe. Lloyd Owen is also convincing as the upwardly mobile Mike, relishing his success, but wary of the roots from which he cannot completely escape. Angel Coulby makes an assertive and sophisticated Kate, Mike’s wife who, as Margaret tactlessly points out, is black. These three combine to deliver a blistering second act showdown which is superbly written. In support, Susan Brown and Lorraine Ashbourne as Margaret’s friends and Matthew Parker as her ex-boss are all excellent. This is a play which, even at it’s most frivolous, has serious undercurrents and, even at it’s most dramatic, can always make room for a joke. It is entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measures. It asks probing questions without offering simplistic solutions; who are the good and the not-so-good people? Maybe good people might be better if they were just a little bad and maybe they could even exist in unexpected places, such as behind lace curtains. Any quibbles? Well perhaps the production has not transferred perfectly from the intimate Hampstead Theatre, which suited it more naturally, to this much larger West End venue. There are times when it is difficult to catch the rapid-fire delivery of lines in the Boston dialect and when the characters seem dwarfed by Hildegard Bechtler’s simply designed sets. However, the evening still belongs to the extraordinary Ms Staunton. It is she who transforms a very good play into an exceptional one.
Performance date: 15 April 2014