Crooked Wood

Gillian Ploughman
Jermyn Street Theatre
(2008)

Production photo

One still-lived-in house called Crooked Wood is holding up a multi-million pound property development. Miss Barwick, the old lady who has lived all her life there, refuses to leave, despite its decay and damp, its dodgy electrics, defunct boiler and disintegrating stairs. Surrounded by her father's rapidly deteriorating antiques and library of mouldering books she turns down purchase offers that rise from £300,000 to a million plus. While big bad developer Murray Lester connives with bent council officials to serve a dangerous structure order, plots getting a lorry to ram the house and even threatens her life, his side kick Andrew Veitch plays the goody to effect a 'voluntary' removal.

Andrew and his Sotheby's-trained wife (Shona Lindsay) may have been won over to a culture of greed and exploitation but they still have hearts. They start to work for, rather than against, Miss Barwick and they have Quentin, a do-gooding legal-eagle (Alec Walters), on their side. Will loutish Lester win or will Belle Barwick keep her family home?

Despite its knocks at the nasty side of the property business and contemporary Thatcherite values, this is a warm, light-hearted piece that never seems really likely to turn into a tragedy - though there is a death. With a running gag that all the lights go off when someone rings the doorbell and only come on again if the front door is given a hefty slam, the gloomy prognosis of its plot is always undermined and it is difficult to believe that anyone could resist the delightful Belle Barwick of Doreen Mantle. Nick Waring's Veitch may be on the make but Belle is convinced he is trustworthy and kind and neither script nor his performance suggest that she is wrong. Alice Walkling's design, with damp wallpaper giving way to bare bricks filled with beloved clutter has the right warm homely feeling, even without heating, and Gene David Kirk's direction cleverly keeps things moving. He never allows the sense of danger to quite disappear but even Clive Carter's bullying Lester is more a melodrama villain than a real-life thug. This is a play that doesn't attempt to get a grasp on the social and political issues from which it stems but aims only at pleasing its audience and giving a frame for some delightful playing.

This production is dedicated to the memory of Judy Campbell, who had been enthusiastic about performing in the play and Dan Crawford whose idea it was to commission this adaptation of Michael Plain's television film Number 27 and who directed a production of an earlier version at the King's Head Theatre.

Until 4th October 2008

Reviewer: Howard Loxton