The Theatreguide.London Review
Old Red Lion Theatre Summer 2014
Barry Keeffe's reworking of his 1989 drama would seem to be largely a matter of updating topical references, with mentions of Jimmy Savile and payday loans, and with the complaints of a dedicated worker in an underfunded and overstretched social welfare system inserting Cameron in place of Thatcher.
And that, of course, makes a strong satirical point in itself, sardonically communicating that nothing has changed in 25 years. But the political comment is not really the play's central concern.
The social worker and his wife have hit a trouble spot in their marriage, which they variously blame on the financial sacrifices inherent in his career choice, the burden of having children, the horrors of inner-city life, and even his possibly roving eye.
Meanwhile he is wrestling with the growing sense that his idealistic commitment to his calling may be both futile and self-destructive, though giving up or selling out would be too much of a failure for him to bear. And his heavily-pregnant wife is all too aware that the first flush of romance has faded between them.
So this is a play about the seven year itch, and about the downward mobility of the middle class, and about the painful clash of idealism and reality, and about the moral failures of a Tory-thinking (even if not always Tory-led) society, and about whether the poor are worth helping, and about the difficulty of admitting failure, and about a few other things as well.
And therein lie the limits of My Girl 2. A play trying to cover all those topics and themes is almost inevitably doomed not to do justice to any of them.
The political strand seems particularly tacked-on – almost everything else in the play would remain the same if the husband had a different frustrating job – and it is noteworthy that Keeffe's writing becomes particularly lifeless and tract-like when he talks about the failing system.
But, depending on your own interests and sympathies, you are likely to wish more were said about the man's fear of admitting failure or the woman's isolation or even whatever happens to the potential Other Woman (a plot line just dropped without resolution).
The recurring shifts in focus and the episodic structure of the plot mean that the two characters seem to alter personalities, or at least show very different aspects of their personalities, with each scene, posing obstacles for those trying to understand and remain sympathetic to them, and posing challenges to director Paul Tomlinson and the actors trying to create whole and consistent portraits.
This may explain the somewhat tentative performances of Alexander Neal and Emily Plumtree, though they are likely to grow in confidence and depth in the course of the run.
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Review - My Girl 2 - Old Red LIon Theatre 2014