Rightly or wrongly, I would turn my nose up at the idea of reading a “family saga” by the likes of Jeffery Archer, but the theatre version thereof is more or less what is being served up here, complete with ragged plotting, exagerrated characters, wild coincidences and countless implusibilities. However, the great pleasure of Ryan Craig’s Filthy Business comes not from its broad structure, but from the richly textured detail supplied by the writer, director Edward Hall and a fine company of actors.
The filthy business in question is an East London shop selling rubber goods and the story spans more than 20 years from 1968. The founder had been Yetta Solomon (Sara Kestelman), a Jewish refugee from war-torn Europe; now widowed, she presides with equal ferocity over the premises and her feuding family. Her favoured son Leo (Dorian Lough) wants away from Yetta’s grip and her resentful son Nat (Lois Hilyer) wants to take control of the business. Leo’s son Mickey (Callum Woodhouse) has an artistic streak and dreams of becoming a hair stylist before settling on designing rubber cushions and bean bags; Nat’s son Gerard (Jack Bannon) feels as neglected as his father whose side he takes in the rivalries; and, below stairs, like adopted family, Monty (Edmund Derrington) and Rosa (Babirye Bukilwa) display a work ethic that now seems of a long bygone age.
It is Yetta’s determination to go to any lengths to hold everything together at all costs that gives the play its drama and its plentiful comedy. Kestelman’s commanding performance is one to keep a note of for when the time for considering awards nominations comes round again. In attempting to represent all the social changes of the period which he covers, Craig takes on too much and there are times when the play creaks under the weight. but Hall’s superbly judged production brings everything together. The changeable set designed by Ashley Martin-Davis is also outstanding, showing the shop in varying stages and resolving to become Leo’s living room.
If the play leaves behind a single memory, it is how the stage quakes every time that the formidable matriarch Yetta appears on it. This is a character and a performance that will not be forgotten in a hurry.
Performance date: 28 March 2017