This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com
“No husband, no family, no religion” Hester moans as she faces up to dying alone in her small flat. In contrast, the play in which she appears is very much a family affair, being a collaboration between writer and actor Zoe Mills and her mother, composer, cellist and actor Brigit Forsyth. With such a variety of talents, perhaps these ladies are entitled to show off a little.
Hester (Forsyth) is 69 and has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She had played the cello with some of the world’s great orchestras, but is now fearful that her obituaries will refer mainly to a youthful affair with a celebrated musician. In her own words, she has become “a cantankerous old tart”, waiting to take her final bows, but the performance cannot end soon enough for her. Never mind, bottles of the finest Rioja (many of them) provide constant comfort. Sara (Mills) is Hester’s social worker, an ambiguous young woman who could be either a saviour or an angel of death.
Forsyth has stockpiled audience affection during decades in television sitcoms and this asset is applied to good effect to give the very unloveable Hester some warmth. However, the first act of Antony Eden’s production is badly in need of an injection of life. Paul Colwell’s untidy sitting room set on a circular revolving stage has a cosy feel, but the play itself is cold and both the characters take time to become plausible. Strangely in the circumstances, the two performances are also slow to gel together, hampered by dialogue that is inconsequential when it could be sharper and more direct.
Things pick up considerably after the interval, when the writer gets fully to grips with the strain of black humour that is essential to making the play work. The thorny subject of euthanasia is skimmed over lightly as Hester argues for the right to choose to die, but confesses to being incapable of doing the deed on her own. Sara’s breezy optimism is brought out well in Mills’ performance as she encourages Hester to look for positives, but she needs to give the character more darkness to convey her sinister side convincingly.
The mournful sound of the cello (played live by Forsyth and on recordings) is the perfect match for the play’s themes and tone, bringing a mellow overall feel to the production. Extracts from Elgar, Brahms and Forsyth enrich the evening, the latter’s piece HeartTime having inspired the play. A cd included with the programme is a pleasing memento of an amusing little comedy that may not otherwise linger long in the mind.
Performance date: 8 February 2017