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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Stroke Of Luck
Park Theatre  January-March 2014

This first play by seventy-something Larry Belling is part TV sitcom and part 'heartwarming' made-for-TV movie. That's not to say it's bad, but just that it relies more on audience knee-jerk response to the conventions of the two genres than on real wit or honestly-generated sentiment. 

A recent widower, partly paralysed by a stroke but otherwise fine, announces to his adult children that he plans to marry and presumably leave his modest fortune to his young Japanese nurse. The siblings, long estranged from each other, find themselves forming alliances and, to their surprise, friendships in their attempt to block him. By the end, everyone loves everyone else and nobody particularly cares who gets the money. 

There are opportunities for comedy here, and for sentimental moments, but the play is limited not just by TV-genre writing but by TV-level writing. The characters are all single-dimensional, each given a quirk or character note that is all that they are. 

One son is a money-grubbing accountant in case we miss it, his name is Monroe and everyone calls him Munny another is a jailbird, while the daughter is an OCD hand-washer. 

The point is that there is no reason for Ike to be a jailbird or Cory to have OCD except to give them an easy-to-remember tag, just as there is no reason for an unseen fourth sibling to be mentally challenged and in a home except for the easy sentimentality, or for the minor character of a neighbour to think he's fluent in Spanish except for the easy laughs.

Meanwhile the sentimental moments Monroe suddenly expressing concern for his sister, Ike learning unexpected things about his father, even (I kid you not) father rising out of his wheelchair to dance with the ghost of his wife all come out of nowhere just because the genre needs them at that point in the play's outline. 

That doesn't mean they're ineffective the scenes between father and ghost are quite sweet but that their effect is as unearned as some of the knee-jerk comedy. 

Faced with one-dimensional characters, director Kate Golledge has clearly ordered her cast to play in TV sitcom mode, punching the gags, milking the tears, and making no attempt to round out their characterisations or even to draw any continuity between their comic and serious moments. Everyone does as they're told quite well, and all deserve equal credit and equal anonymity. 

Only Tim Pigott-Smith as the father is offered any variant colours to act, and while the role clearly doesn't stretch or challenge him a bit, he does a nice job of creating and generating some warmth for the one nearly-real human being in the play.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Stroke of Luck - Park Theatre 2014

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