Me, You and George Clooney
Jill Hughes and Rob Lees
MaD Theatre Company
Kings Arms, Salford
Writing about the lives of ‘ordinary’ people is hazardous. There is the risk what is intended as affectionate will seem condescending or the mundane events recorded will be boring. There are exceptions—such as the TV show The Royle Family—which get the formula right and Jill Hughes’s script for Me, You and George Clooney seems inspired not just by that show but the television, as opposed to theatrical, format.
Recuperating from a mugging, Nellie (author Jill Hughes) becomes reclusive. Suffering from claustrophobia, she refuses to seek treatment for her injured backside (the humour in the play is not subtle) as she cannot face using the lift to her doctors. Nellie spends her time Internet shopping and watching daytime TV relating to George Clooney as they both own posh coffee machines. Community nurse Nigel (Rob Lees) encourages Nellie to take part in events such as a community play but he is having problems of his own. Rob’s job is under threat and he is alienated from his wife and children. Can Nellie and Rob help each other find solutions to their problems?
As the play involves a couple watching—and passing comments on—TV programmes, it is inevitable that extracts are broadcast on screen to the rear of the stage. The technique allows for a degree of variety, as other characters also appear on screen, but is overused to the extent the play starts to resemble an episode of Gogglebox. It feels strange to attend a live theatre event and observe a couple sitting immobile watching TV for most of the show. There is little tension in the first act, which drifts along as if Hughes was content to simply tie together a group of scenes that do little to advance the plot.
A key point in each of the acts involves Nellie interacting with events on the TV programmes either by taking credit for something that happens or being tricked into discussing her phobias on-screen. The technique is well co-ordinated but feels like a big build-up for a modest payoff.
There are some very good lines in the script—"she was the first person in Moston to have ravioli". Hughes is not afraid to show the debilitating effect of loneliness on Nellie in her willingness to manipulate Nigel into keeping her company. There is a growing affection between the characters with Nellie horrified when she learns the part of the city in which Nigel lives.
The second act is more focused and features a very funny filmed interview with Nigel’s son. Patois enters the script as Nellie makes clear, although she will make no efforts on her own behalf, she will sacrifice to help Nigel.
It takes a long time for Me, You and George Clooney to find a focus and the first act in particular would benefit from revisions to build a stronger connection to the plot. The play might best be enjoyed in the company of a group of friends who can share in the enthusiasms of Nellie and Nigel.
Reviewer: David Cunningham