The Awkward Squad
Fresh Glory Productions in association with the Guild of Lillians and the Customs House
Customs House, South Shields
The Miners' Strike of 1984: an iconic event in the history of the North East, leaving a legacy of economic decline and high unemployment which continues even today, fractured communities and families split apart, much bitterness towards the police and even more hatred of Margaret Thatcher.
If it had a positive side, it would be the empowerment of working class women who not only managed to keep their families' heads above water but were politicised as they fought not just for their own families but for the whole community. Again, a legacy which continues to this day.
Lorna, now in her seventies, is one such. Her campaigning both at the time and since has led to her being awarded an honorary degree at her local university and now a new community centre is to be named after her, and her two daughters, Pam and Sandy, along with grand-daughter Sarah have arrived to join the celebrations.
They, however, have their problems...
Given the background, you might imagine that this is a grindingly serious, even grim play, but it's far from that. It's a family comedy, with serious undertones—as all the best comedies are, of course. And it's well written, with fully rounded characters—Barbara Marten as Lorna, Libby Davison Pam, Charlie Hardwick Sandy and Lisa McGrillis Sandys' daughter Sarah—whose stories are gradually and naturally revealed without any sense of events being contrived for the sake of character revelation or plot progression. And the seriousness underlying the humour is never lost.
Effective design by Imogen Cloët is supplemented by clever use of video projection by Arnim Friess and director Fiona MacPherson keeps the pace finely balanced between carrying the audience along and giving them time to assimilate the developments in the different plot strands.
On the first night, which was also the press night, there were a couple of hiccoughs which were not spotted by most of the audience and will obviously corrected in subsequent performances. Indeed the play received a standing ovation at the end and the post-show buzz in the foyer and outside was full of enthusiasm.
The Awkward Squad plays at the Customs House until Saturday 3rd March, before going to the West End's Arts Theatre from 6th March to 7th April and then to York Theatre Royal from 10th to 13th April.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan