My Girl 2

Barrie Keefe
Dilated Theatre Company
Old Red Lion Theatre

Alexander Neal as Sam and Emily Plumtree as Anita Credit: Adam Trigg
Emily Plumtree as Anita Credit: Adam Trigg
Alexander Neal as Sam and Emily Plumtree as Anita Credit: Adam Trigg

This is not a sequel to Keefe’s 1989 play My Girl and it has nothing to do with the My Girl movies. It is a reworking of that play set when Margaret Thatcher was in power that has been reworked and updated to a contemporary setting under another conservative government.

Its story of a dedicated social worker and his wife, heavily pregnant with their second baby, and their struggle to survive on a low income while saddled with massive debts is not essentially very different, except that repaying a student loan and the explosion of house prices and rentals in London has made things even worse.

It would be a depressing picture of the way our society treats those who idealistically set out to serve it were it not for its leavening of humour and the warmth of the picture it draws of this couple: Sam, about to become 30, and Anita, fed-up with being trapped at home with one screaming, teething child while bulging with another.

Sam has a cheerful disposition and can put a brave face on their situation, even though three-quarters of his salary goes straight into paying off his loans. Anita just wants to get out of this situation, out of London and have the live that she expected.

“Everything is going to be all right” he reassures her but his optimism “makes Jehovah’s Witnesses seem like sane, sensible people”.

An opening scene, in which a late-for-work Sam refuses a quick toast or porridge breakfast yet hangs around talking, seems a little wordily unnatural but helps establish the contrast between them. This creates a moving picture of a relationship as well as a political statement.

Alexander Neal and Emily Plumtree get it absolutely right, handling the sudden shifts in mood, the moments of joy and desperation in a way that reveals their past as well as the present moment.

Paul Tomlinson’s production increases the emphasis on the relationship by trimming some detailed political references from the new script—but this is no way a leftist diatribe. Nevertheless it is a strong indictment of where the economic attitudes and aims instilled by Thatcher and maintained by succeeding governments have got us.

Has Sam been foolishly irresponsible or was his situation unavoidable? Either way his grief at being forced to give up his idealism is touching.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton