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My City

Stephen Poliakoff
Almeida
(2011)

My City publicity image

Despite or perhaps because of his extraordinary screen success, My City is Stephen Poliakoff's first new stage play of the millennium.

His is not the only comeback that this production marks, since few will recall the last time that another favourite from the world of TV, Tracey Ullman, last appeared on a British stage.

She plays a prim, retired junior school headmistress, Miss Lambert. In a remarkable coincidence, one of her old pupils from a couple of decades before, Tom Riley's Richard discovers and recognises her lying on an Embankment park bench in the early hours of the morning.

Rather than a down and out, the former teacher is merely an eccentric who prefers nocturnal perambulations to sleep.

Having met, the pair make a date for a session of reminiscence that soon extends to a couple more of Miss Lambert's teaching colleagues and Richard's partner in special needs learning Julie.

What ensues is a torrent of storytelling both from the teachers in their heyday and equally enthusiastically in the present day, when they are joined by the younger couple.

To the extent that there is a theme, it is a love-letter to London, seen through its quirky history as filtered through the eyes of this rather strange and mismatched quintet. Inevitably, the long-term effects of inspirational teaching also figure, though these might be seen as diluted, judging by the subsequent careers of their two troubled charges.

The individual stories are rarely that strong and at times can begin to feel interminable, despite sometimes lively delivery from a cast that also includes in leading roles David Troughton, Sorcha Cusack and Sian Brooke under the direction of the playwright.

"My City" plays until 5 November

Reviewer: Philip Fisher