Dreams of Violence

Stella Feehily
Out of Joint
Soho Theatre
(2009)

Publicity image

"Am I in Hell?" If you have a family even vaguely like that of Catherine Russell's Hildy Hooper-Jones, this is a valid question. She is the protagonist in Dreams of Violence, a play that probably started out as an intended stage exploration of Capitalism in meltdown but rather lost its right-on way.

By the time that it reached production under the auspices of Max Stafford-Clark and Out of Joint, the play has become rather more like a solo soap opera, so climactic is the life of its central character, a well-to-do campaigner for workers' rights.

Every member of Hildy's family is a fully-fledged eccentric of the desperately needy kind. Each is the sort of individual that most people only meet once every decade or so.

The fiercely manipulative oldies steal the show. Paula Wilcox, as mum Shirley, is a sexagenarian former pop star with an everything habit, drugs, booze, fame and adoration. Her Irish husband is Jack, played hilariously by Ciaran McIntyre as a mildly senile, totally dotty patient in a very expensive institution for the aged.

A generation down comes randy husband Ben, Nigel Cooke playing a surgeon who struggles to accept the proposed divorce resulting from his multiple adulteries but only because of the sex that he will lose.

Their son, Jamie Baughan in the role of Jamie, is an overweight former junkie unsure whether to concentrate his excessive levels of hatred on himself or his poor, put-upon mother.

It is hardly surprising that Hildy enjoys escaping to her career as an undercover cleaner and agent provocateur. There, she has some kind of power and respect, as well as the chance to meet people who don't dissolve in tears or tantrums every few minutes.

Unfortunately, the political side of the story remains under-developed, although there is a challenging set piece straight out of Gagarin Way as two minimum wage cleaners hold the boyish Managing Director of a city bank (played by Giles Cooper) hostage in a gesture that seems destined to prove meaningless in the overall scheme of things.

After promising to be a searing expose of Capitalism on the skids, Dreams of Violence ultimately ends up as a reasonably amusing soapy sitcom about the challenges that face middle class women today.

David Chadderton reviewed this production on tour in Manchester

Reviewer: Philip Fisher