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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Smaller
Lyric Theatre Spring 2006

While one Catholic daughter goes off to have a life, the other stays home to care for their invalid mother for 25 years.

You might not guess all the details of Carmel Morgan's new play, but you know the broad outline and some of the inevitable scenes. (For example, I'm giving nothing away by telling you there will be a death before the end.)

Morgan is not interested in charting new territory, but rather in telling the familiar story in a fresh way, with as much humour as pathos, and with musical punctuation.

Much of the first half of the short (under two hours, including a long interval) play is comic in tone. Dawn French as the carer and June Watson as the mother go through the routines and rituals of the day with a resignation coloured by warmth so that even the old woman's nagging demands and the daughter's exasperation have a humourous tinge, as when the daughter, though long experience, can keep up her half of a small-talk conversation without actually listening.

Even the mother's idolising and romanticising of the absent daughter (whose career consists of singing in seedy Spanish resort bars) only generates mechanical resentment in the one who has stayed, so many times have they been through this before.

It isn't until the inevitable crisis and the prodigal daughter's return that the tone turns seriously dark, but even here the sisters, for all their exploding passion (You abandoned us - You chose to stay), seem to sense that they are acting out a ritual that has to be gotten through on their way to peace.

Dawn French carries much of burden of the play, investing the carer with a bemused resignation that reassures us she is getting something of value from her dedication, with only brief cracks in her facade of good humour suggesting the limits of her strength.

June Watson successfully treads the very thin line of showing how demanding and unreasonable the invalid can be and still keeping her sympathetic. Alison Moyet has little to do until the confrontation scene except to provide musical interludes with some original songs.

 
Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Smaller - Lyric 2006