Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Third Finger, Left Hand

Adam Canavan
Nine Lives Productions and Richard Jordan Productions Ltd in association with York Theatre Royal
Theatre Royal Studio, York
(2005)

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The decade that taste forgot lives again in Adam Canavan's little cracker of a play, directed by Sonia Fraser and premiered to great acclaim at last year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This richly deserved revival is a must for anyone who enjoys fine writing, superb acting and the chance to wallow in nostalgia for the dear dead days of Wigan Casino, Smitty perfume and Fab 208 magazine

The vivacious Niamh (Angela Clerkin) and her put-upon younger sister Grace (Amanda Daniels) share a passion for Tamla Motown, dancing and Top of the Pops. Music provides a welcome escape from the harshness of their home life in a northern town - a terrifyingly violent Irish father, constant financial worries and the usual traumas of growing up. We see the girls graduate from playing White Horses in the living room - has there ever been a more evocative piece of TV theme music? - to performing elaborate dance routines at the local church hall. The play's title refers to the Martha Reeves hit of the same name, and if you're of a certain age you'll find yourself suppressing the urge to join in with the hand movements

Over the years the sisters grow apart, and Niamh's unwillingness to let Grace share the upbringing of her illegitimate daughter comes close to ending their relationship completely. But a double tragedy is lying in wait - only a month after their mother dies of cancer Niamh is diagnosed with the same illness ("Haven't I suffered enough?" says her father when she breaks the news).

We last see Niamh, still in her mid-30s but so ravaged with illness that Grace mistakes her for an old woman, in the lounge of the hospice where she dies a hideously prolonged and painful death. But the stoical Grace has spent a lifetime coping with everything that life can throw at her, and we are left with the impression that after making the usual sad phone calls to family and friends she'll find the strength to soldier on.

It goes without saying that you'll probably need an ample supply of tissues for the second half of the play - there was plenty of smudged mascara in evidence on the press night - but there's plenty of humour too. Clerkin and Daniels are utterly convincing as the sisters (they also play their own parents and younger brother!) and there isn't a false note from beginning to end. Miss this slice of the 70s at your peril!

At the Theatre Royal Studio, York, until 4th June

Reviewer: J. D. Atkinson