This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com
Mantovani, Russ Conway and Lonnie Donegan playing on the gramophone (as well as Cliff Richard), floral paper on all the walls, ladies appearing in flared skirts and nylon stockings – we are back in 1959. This new play by Gemma Page and Michael Kirk is packed with period detail, but more than that, it adheres to a style of broad family comedy that was very popular in the era that it depicts, yet is rarely seen nowadays. The central character, Dorothy, is a bellowing battle-axe, a snob and a social climber who steamrollers over all in her domain using withering remarks and sheer brute force. It is a role that would have been tailor-made for Peggy Mount back in the day and Wendi Peters tackles it with obvious relish. The family is gathered at the Derbyshire home of Dorothy’s newly-widowed sister, Irene (Wendy Morgan), for a funeral wake combined with a party to celebrate the christening of Dorothy’s grandchild. First to arrive is Dorothy’s daughter (Vicky Binns) who, fearful that she could be “infutile” and may miss a vital opportunity, forces her accident-prone husband (Matthew Fraser-Holland) to exercise his conjugal rights on the living room carpet. The first Act is an often hilarious account of the interactions between the family members, some of whom are more caricatures than characters. A few of the gags probably go back a lot further than1959, but the writers can be forgiven for the generous lashings of double entendres on the grounds that the propriety of the 50s seems to have prevented anyone from speaking in direct terms about almost anything. When darker themes begin to emerge, it is the restricting nature of 50s family life that the writers put under scrutiny. Irene’s slutty but naive daughter (Diana Vickers) delivers the double whammy that she could be pregnant and the father could be black; Dorothy’s husband (Kevin McGowan) is revealed to be a long-time philanderer and the adored son that she has over-pampered (James Wrighton) has an habitual fondness for prostitutes and for abusing his wife (Danielle Flett). This family lives on top of a pressure cooker, filled with suppressed emotions and the play lifts the lid in a second Act that is steaming, without ever forgetting that its prime purpose as a comedy is to be funny. The biggest laugh is reserved for Dorothy getting her comeuppance, just as Peggy Mount’s characters usually did. Kirk’s in-the-round production blends comedy and drama perfectly and is brought to life by a splendid cast. Special mention goes to PJ McEvoy, whose set and costume designs complement all the meticulous period detail in the script. The Prime minister in 1959, Harold MacMillan, told Britain “you’ve never had it so good”. In many ways, the era does not appear so rosy when looked back upon now, but this play shows it to have been, at least, good for a laugh.
Performance date 2 September 2015