Liars' Market

Ernest Hall

JMK Productions in association with the Union Theatre

Union Theatre, Southwark

From 27 April 2010 to 15 May 2010

Review by Nina Romain

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Eric (Howard Teale) works in a post-war Bradford market and his dull life is only livened up by visits to local prostitute Susan every Tuesday as his alter ego Stanley. After this, he reports back to his wheelchair-bound sister Sonia (Anny Tobin) with whom he lives and whom he takes care of.

This odd sibling set-up works equally well for all three, but then Susan's boyfriend/pimp Max (Jamie Kenna) develops other plans, which backfire with Eric's latest visit to Susan seeing him on the end of a bayonet. However, Sonia switches from frail little old lady to master manipulator, and soon Susan (Lucy Beaumont) and Max are filling in for Eric in ways they hadn't quite foreseen.

All the characters play parts and try to pressurize the others into changing to suit themselves: Eric slips into his Tuesday role as easily as "into a warm overcoat" as he dresses up to transform himself from humble market stall worker to Stanley, the smart bookseller, in his one good suit for "weddings, funerals and sexual encounters", as Sonia scathingly puts it. He tries to persuade Susan to not charge him for sex, trying to manipulate her into acting as his girlfriend rather than employee; she in turn tries to ask him for more money, attempting to transform him into loyal friend rather than client.

Sonia also changes from an elderly lady needing to be helped into bed to a foe worthy of the landlady in Ladykillers - the scene where she forces the burly Max to paint her toenails and sing her to sleep, transforming him into the neutered hired help, is entertaining as well as horrific.

Max is also two separate characters, a terrifying mixture of clumsy affection towards Susan and savage biopolar rage, obsessed with military violence. He is the post-war version of the thug his creator played in movie Green Street, but his final moments as a devoted son who just wants to see his family again in London are even more disturbing. Susan matches him as the downtrodden but never downbeat girlfriend trying to support his dream.

Writer Ernest Hall's black humour is smart and entertaining, with great audience reaction, but also is taken too far - a character's story of a pet hamster committing suicide ends up as bathetically bizarre rather than sad. Hall's portrayal of dead-end jobs in a post-war small town is chilling in its shabby authenticity; he says he wanted to give a feel for the "sheer coldness" and "bleakness" of those years, and the cramped two bedrooms give a realistic feel for how small are the characters' worlds, as the two rooms are where all four live and (in Susan's case) work.

But in the end, none of these four characters realize their dreams, and as the title suggests, are all peddling lies in the market of life.