Keeping up with the Joans

Phillip Meeks

Greenwich Theatre and Patrick Wilde

Pleasance Courtyard

From 07 August 2014 to 24 August 2014

Rating: ***

Review by Liam Blain

A heart-warming and emotional story told through a witty and well written script in Keeping up with the Joans at the Pleasance Courtyard.

Set in Rye Hill Retirement Home, you first meet Zillah Mint (Susan Penhaligon), a strong minded elderly lady, and Gary (Arron Usher), her (slightly) patronising yet considerate care worker.

It’s not long before Zillah’s biggest rival Kitty Feathers arrives on the scene and all goes awry at Rye Hill. All three characters share a connection to a local amateur theatre company, but no-one can remember who played St Joan on the night the well-respected Sybil Thorndyke went to see it.

Therefore the production centres around the two women, their incomplete memories and the rebuilding of their friendship in this nostalgic hour and a half.

Philip Meeks's writing really shines in this work, just as it did for Marple and Me at the Fringe two years ago. He really has a knack of gripping an audience, sweeping them away with a great story but teaching them something at the same time.

The one downside of this production was the slightly over-played characterisation. At times, the direction felt a little contrived and the acting was slightly stale at points. For example, in the section where we meet Billy (the two ladies’ late, gay friend) it was slightly overdramatized and the male actor’s portrayal was at times artificial.

The end of the play really hits home the idea that dementia and memory loss is a very real thing and the staging of this is perfect to the piece even bringing some audience members to tears.

If you’re looking for your equivalent to early afternoon ITV drama at the Fringe, then this is definitely the production for you. It’s funny, gritty, yet has a moral purpose.