Goodbye to All That
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
Luke Norris has written a most unexpected opening play for the Royal Court Young Writers Festival 2012. Rather than addressing the perennial issue of teen angst like so many of his predecessors, the actor-turned-playwright zeroes in on a geriatric love triangle.
Goodbye to All That might have been borrowed as a title from Robert Graves but the story line is really original.
The opening doesn't quite come off, as all four of the characters struggle to behave quite coherently, though stress and shock might be somewhat to blame.
As he approaches his 70th birthday, Roger Sloman's Frank seemingly lives at the local golf club in Romford. However, through a stroke of misfortune, the loud shopkeeper is spotted up to no good on the links by his judgemental grandson.
Young David, played by Alexander Cobb, issues a blackmailing ultimatum. Give up his dalliance with widowed Rita, Linda Marlowe, or he will spill the beans to his grandmother.
Once we meet gran Iris, that threat becomes far more chilling. Susan Brown plays the vindictive oldie with excesses of bile firing out, as the news of her man's infidelity after 45 years of not very happy marriage emerges. The irony here is that it is suggested that Frank and Rita have not even slept together, just held hands wandering up the fairway.
What could have been a 75 minute tug of love becomes something else completely, after the excitement proves too much for Frank, a severe stroke leaving him little better than a vegetable.
From this point on, the final hour fascinates, as we observe the two women battling for possession of a man that Rita loves and vindictive Iris loves to torment.
The dialogue rings true and what could have been an unlikely situation convinces, as David also finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place.
At the same time as retailing a very human drama, Luke Norris presents a serious indictment of the NHS, though it is suggested that some of the deprivation in this instance might have a source closer to home.
Director Simon Godwin does well after the tricky first quarter-hour, aided by Tom Piper's simple but highly practical set, which instantly transforms between golf club, two homes and a pair of hospitals.
In a strong cast Roger Sloman shines, clearly working incredibly hard from the moment that tragedy strikes, not dropping his mask for a second, so much so that when the actor miraculously takes a curtain call restored to his feet it comes as a surprise.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher