The Theatreguide.London Review
Hampstead Theatre Winter 2012-2013
A newly widowed woman in her sixties buys a red coat, starts going to concerts on her own, wanders into a pole-dancer bar and winds up making friends with the girls, and generally shocks the mother who has disapproved of her all her life and the daughter who has leached off her all her life.
Yes, of course you've seen this before. There's a Brecht story (which playwright Sarah Wooley acknowledges as a source), an old French movie, and probably a half-dozen TV dramas and soap opera plot lines.
The only variation or suspense allowed to yet another version is who will win – will the widow continue to enjoy her new liberation or be sucked back into convention? And that question, while it will bring you back after the interval, would need more dramatic intensity than Sarah Wooley gives it to really hold you.
No, the story, in whatever form you encounter it, lives or dies on the charm of the actress and how much she carries us along in her character's joy of self-discovery. And in Maureen Lipman we certainly have an actress of immense charm. Indeed, the opportunity to spend a couple of hours in her company is by far the largest draw of this production.
Almost everything else about the show is a little too obvious, too overstated and at one point dishonest in straining to achieve what the playwright and director Terry Johnson might almost have assumed as a given – our sympathy for Lipman's character.
The daughter played by Tracy-Ann Oberman is written and directed to be so extremely and obviously unpleasant a human being, so blindly self-centred that Lipman could be playing an axe murderer and still get our sympathy.
Helen Ryan isn't quite as over-the-top as the disapproving mother, but just to make sure she comes across as a witch Wooley has written in an unnecessarily bizarre back story for her and her daughter.
Nadia Clifford's pole dancer could be an undergraduate preparing for a career in child care for the disabled or missionary work among the lepers, so improbably innocent and safe is she presented.
(And the dishonesty? We are led to believe something bad is about to happen to our heroine as the first act ends, only to have the moment never mentioned again.)
You can still enjoy Maureen Lipman's performance and the inherent pleasure of her character's rebellion. But you will be too aware of the clumsiness and heavy-handedness with which this delicate little story is being presented for this version to work.
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