The Lowry, Salford
After King Cotton two years ago, The Lowry has gone for a smaller-scale story, if no less ambitious technically, for its second self-produced theatre piece.
Local writer Kevin Fegan has written a simple story about two people who find one another and tell each other the stories of their lives but staged it, with director Noreen Kershaw, mixed with flashbacks and film clips showing other characters all played by the same two actors and other aspects of their stories.
The main characters are Leigh and Nelson (all characters are named after local places). Loud and raucous Leigh is separated from Darwen and is looking for someone else more reliable and tolerant of her shopping addiction; Nelson has served time in prison for attacking his ex-wife's new man with a baseball bat and missed his daughter Pendle growing up, but Pendle turns up as a teenager to live with him bringing along her slacker friends and her drug habit.
Most of the play is a series of monologues telling bits of stories rather than a continuous narrative, many of which are funny or touching. The fact that these two people are talking to each other isn't made at all clear until the very end, which makes some exchanges a little confusing. It is not until around halfway through this 80-minute piece (there is no interval) that we see a scene between two live characters when the powerful story of Nelson and his daughter begins to unfold; in fact this is the strongest and most interesting story in the whole play but we still only really scratch the surface of this relationship.
The video sections are used in various ways. In Nelson's house, it represents the images on his security camera, which works very well, creating an almost Hitchcockian split screen of two things happening at once. At other times we see on film characters we are being told about or the contents of a computer screen or just a backdrop to the action onstage. Sometimes there is dialogue between live actors and film clips, which results in a few uncomfortable delays as the actors wait for the pre-recorded footage to catch them up. Dawn Allsopp's simple but effective design consists of a blank wall for the projection with a couple of rotating panels and a large sliding door in the middle.
There has been a troubled history to the casting with stars Suranne Jones and Brian McCardie both dropping out at different stages of the preparations for the show (McCardie can still be seen playing some of the characters in the film clips, which he does extremely well). However the final cast of Naomi Radcliffe and Paul Simpson do a very good job of putting across the troubled main characters and a large number of film cameos, plus Radcliffe (also named after a local town in real life) is excellent as teenager Pendle, the only other character played live.
Overall there are many moments that are funny, moving and really nicely written and performed, but though entertaining it doesn't add up to a totally coherent piece of theatre. Like King Cotton, there is much to applaud in the piece's ambition, subject matter and performances despite its shortcomings as a play on stage, but hopefully perhaps after some reworking it will have more of a future than King Cotton which seems to have disappeared.
To 31 October 2009
Reviewer: David Chadderton