Sliding with Suzanne

Judy Upton
Royal Court
(2001)

Max Stafford-Clark and Out of Joint tend to select plays that address difficult issues in unusual ways. Sliding with Suzanne by Judy Upton currently on in the Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court is no exception.

It requires an initial suspension of disbelief. How can Suzanne, well played by Monica Dolan, a single woman of 35 who has had a breakdown, serially foster troubled teenagers in an infested flat? To make matters worse, she is unemployed having started her working life with the Inland Revenue and found no more interesting job subsequently.

Perhaps the strangest but most interesting proposition that the play puts forward is an apparent belief that wisdom decreases with age. This seems unlikely but Upton carries it through well. The younger members of the cast are constantly telling their elders but not betters what to do or not to do. This is exemplified by a sex education lesson between teenaged Luka and his foster-granny. He gives the lesson!

One of the reasons why this inversion is necessary is that the youngsters, Luka and a brother and sister who collide with the dysfunctional family, have their heads far better screwed on than the confused Suzanne. Even worse are her irritating and irritated mother who can't understand her daughter and speaks in platitudes and the mother's putative love, the remarkably boring map collector, Ned.

The plot has several interesting but unlikely twists that ensure that poor Suzanne and her bright foster son, Luka, Bryan Dick showing great promise, have a lot to worry about.

Upton's view is clearly that twenty-first century society is badly messed up. In fact, almost like Eastenders, she gives Suzanne more problems than are wholly realistic. However, this affectionate portrait of her damaged characters is gripping and entertaining. It also gives Monica Dolan a showcase for her considerable talent.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher