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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Sweet Panic
Duke of York's Theatre    Autumn 2003-Spring 2004

Stephen Poliakoff's latest play is very poor, and an attractive and talented cast are left floundering in it under the author's own direction.

A child psychologist is stalked by the mother from hell, an obsessively controlling woman who reacts to some unreturned phone calls with a campaign of harassment and threats.

Unbelievably, the shrink doesn't call the cops or throw the madwoman out, but keeps letting her into her office and private life.

Finally, we discover that the woman isn't trying to destroy the doctor after all, but just constructively guiding her to the admission that life is harder for kids today than it was in the golden days of their youth, and that she doesn't have all the answers.

That accomplished, the two women settle down for a friendly picnic, ignoring the fact that they have somehow become locked in a disused tunnel under Marble Arch at the start of a long Bank Holiday weekend (Don't ask).

I make no apologies for giving away the ending, because it is so absurd, and because it is not likely that you will want to go see the play for yourself.

And I have actually left out some of the totally unintegrated other elements, like the shrink's nasty receptionist, a boyfriend who is the world's foremost authority on London's driver-only buses, another parent devoted to making a superior instant pot noodle, a former patient who does not seem to have adjusted to adulthood very successfully, and a child whose paper mache models of London landmarks are put on show.

None of this comes together, none of it is believable for a minute, even though the actors do their best to keep us awake.

As the shrink, Victoria Hamilton has a number of scenes in which she imitates some of her child clients for us, which makes for a nice tour-de-force of acting but has nothing to do with the rest of the play.

Jane Horrocks has been directed to play the mother as barking mad from her very first appearance, which is suitably frightening, but leaves her nowhere to go and makes her sudden shift into the voice of wisdom unbelievable.

John Gordon-Sinclair does his usual amiably-vague-and-tweedy shtick as the bus-spotting boyfriend and is, as always, lovable and attractive. But his character and his performance come out of some other play and seem to have wandered in here by mistake.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Sweet Panic - Duke Of York's Theatre 2003

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