Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Many Roads to Paradise

Stephen Permutt
Finborough Theatre
(2008)

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In a Jewish old people's home in Hendon, north London, is Stella, a blind octogenarian with a failing memory, being wheeled into the garden by her carer, a Somalian refugee in a khimar. In a smart house in Golders Green, Helen, her lesbian daughter is being bossed around by her tippling ex-BBC partner. Helen works for a failing travel agent, her gay friend Martin, and he is plucking up courage to speak to the guy in a leather jacket whom he thinks is the chap he has made a date with on the internet. That prospect is Leo, known as George where he works which, to complete the circle, is the very same care home where Stella is living. Despite that convenient completion this is no La Ronde sequence of sexual encounters but an all too accurate study of the dysfunctional pattern of human relationships.

Sometimes savagely funny in its picture of the imbalance of the expectations and needs on the two sides of a partnership, this isn't just about sexual pairings. There is a moment when things seem about to take on the clash between western culture and Islam. It doesn't pursue that ideological argument but concentrates on the basic problem of how little we know or understand of each other.

It is a delight to see Miriam Karlin back in action as the old lady in her wheelchair, still harping on the husband who gave her only a charm bracelet and a baby before he ran off sixty years ago. Of course, there is part of her that's very endearing but you can see just how much damage she has done to her daughter. You can't help feeling for Gillian Hanna's Helen, or 'Scruffy' as partner Avril persistently calls her. Stewart Permutt allows us to see more sides to her character by showing her in more varied situations. Posh Avril, hiding her insecurities behind self-importance and alcohol, is more one-dimensional but gets some of the best lines and Amanda Boxer makes the most of them -- like saying a woman has 'a face squashed in like a Persian pussy on heat'; impossibly bossy, she is clear in her principles: 'Relationships are like going on a very long train journey. You have to keep on going till the end; you can't just jump out of the carriage when things get a bit bumpy...'

Sadia, the Somali carer, gives the opportunity to show another kind of dependent relationship - her dependence as well as her charges'; she seems very loving but Elizabeth Uter in the occasional moment makes us wonder whether her devotion might really be role play. Martin is perhaps a bit of a cliché: a gay man who has barely managed to find, let alone keep a lover, but David Hill prevents him from being boring and Jason Wing's stud, a little over the hill in his thirties, with a taste for older men who are hairy, gives a nice balance between sexual confidence and what could be both vulnerability or canny exploitiveness.

Director Anthony Biggs keeps the action moving rapidly between half a dozen locations on a fixed set without moving the furniture, which on this tiny stage sometimes leads to some rather odd placing. Designer Beck Rainford's choice of particular items, dominated by a pair of care-home armchairs does little to match other locations with a 50s kitchen cabinet doubling for both Martin's batchelor apartment and Avril's elegant household, however this is a production that concentrates on the actors not the setting..

At the Finborough until 5th July, 2008

Reviewer: Howard Loxton