Bridge Theatre February-March 2019
Lucinda Coxon's new
play, adapted from the novel by Harriet Lane, manages to be
thoroughly contemporary in its plot, setting and characterisations
while still having an appealingly retro feel about it.
It's the kind
of play they're not supposed to be writing anymore, but its
old-fashioned quality actually feels fresh and original, and
The title character
actually dies in the
first scene, in an automobile accident. The play's real protagonist,
Frances, is the first on the scene, who calls for an ambulance and
gets to speak with Alys for a few moments before she dies.
unplanned point of contact leads to Frances meeting Alys's family –
husband and grown son and daughter – and being drawn into their
family soap opera, to the extent of ending up in someone's bed.
Meanwhile, the husband
is a famous novelist and Frances is a lowly
dogsbody in a newspaper arts section, and her sudden connection to
him raises her profile and status at work, and she starts getting
writing assignments and raises and promotions.
The playwright and
director Nicholas Hytner carefully retain a mystery and ambiguity
about how much of what happens is being engineered and exploited by
Frances and how much is just her passively accepting the rewards that
come with others trying to exploit her.
daughter is clearly a spoiled princess determined never to grow up
and become responsible, and she latches on to Frances as an interim
substitute for her mother, but that gives Frances further entry into
the family. Frances's boss has an eye on protecting her own job by
generating scoops like an exclusive interview with the novelist, and
is happy to throw some rewards Frances's way to get it.
Joanne Froggatt offers a very subtle and nuanced performance that
skilfully walks a tightrope, keeping us unsure until quite late in
the play how conscious and premeditated the character is in shaping
her personal and professional advancement.
She is backed by equally
ambiguous and appealing characterisations by Robert Glenister as the
grieving husband who may not be quite as broken as he seems and Leah
Gayer as the calculatedly dependent daughter.
The setting is not
limited to a drawing room (though there are some scenes in an elegant
country house) and the characters don't dress for dinner (though some
might, if asked).
But Alys, Always is the best 1950s-style play written since, well, the 1950s, and I mean that as unqualified praise.
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Review - Alys Always - Bridge Theatre 2019