Simon Mendes da Costa
A Hampstead Theatre Production
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
Despite the many and varied roles played by award-winning Alison Steadman she is still best remembered with nostalgic pleasure as the stridently embarrassing hostess Beverley of Abigails Party on both stage and screen way back in the seventies, and she brings the same superbly comic style to the part of Sheila in this production. Totally tactless, insensitive but well-meaning, her mouth runs away with her as her thoughts spill out. Her explanation of Einsteins Theory of Relativity, mixed with her latest horoscope (which proves that she and husband Tony are utterly incompatible) is a joy, but even more hilarious is her long winded funeral joke - not too much appreciated by the gathering as they have just buried the Louis of the title, and the ceremony has not gone at all well.
New writer Simon Mendes da Costa - this is only his second play demonstrates a tremendous feel for situation comedy, as well as an appreciation of the trials and problems of family life, rivalry and resentment between siblings, feelings of guilt that a six year old child can carry into adult life, and the desperation of a woman who has lost a child to have another at any price. Theres a lot more than comedy in this play, despite the fact that it had the audience convulsed with laughter almost the whole time.
As the action switches abruptly and frequently from the late fifties to the present day, the set design could have been a problem for Liz Ashcroft, but she has solved this by creating a period style bedroom (complete with en-suite bathroom) which could have come from any period, and everything takes place here, from a young Louis (Ben Porter) indulging in a little illicit beneath the sheets pleasure with his pregnant wifes best friend before finding six year old son Tony under the bed, to the moment when Sheila and adult Tony (David Horovitch) discover that they may not be incompatible after all.
Director Robin Lefevre keeps the action moving swiftly and competently along, with one scene blending seamlessly into another as characters emerge from bathroom, hall, and even the accommodating wardrobe, achieving this with essential split second timing and keeping both actors and audience on their toes. Never knowing which character or which time period would appear next, rapt attention is necessary but this is no hardship whatsoever.
Sheila and Tony are here for father Louis funeral, and are awaiting the arrival of estranged brother Reggie (David Cardy) and his wife Elizabeth and the differences between the brothers is evident immediately debonair lawyer Reggie rich and successful, and grumpy Tony just getting by, and resentful of his brothers lifestyle.
Deep-voiced Rula Lenska is as beautifully elegant as usual, giving credence to her role as rich jewellery designer Elizabeth, but Sheila is concerned that her wedding ring is not in place on her finger could the marriage be having problems? Nothing to worry about the ring is now in a safe place where shes had it inserted to please her husband but we wont go into that right now!
A well cast, well written comedy, the serious undertones (including the conflicts between Jewish and Christian faiths) in no way detracting from the humour. A seriously funny and exceptionally entertaining evening.
Touring to Malvern, Poole and Cambridge.
This review was first published in Theatreworld Internet Magazine
Reviewer: Sheila Connor