The Kings Arms, Salford
Lewis Charlesworth’s first play—Cheaters: A play About Infidelity—showed he had managed the transition from stand-up comedian to playwright. With The Greek, his very confident second play, Charlesworth shows his versatility moving towards bittersweet comedy/drama.
Set in the period leading up to the Brexit vote, The Greek is a plea for a degree of civility in our dealings with other people. Widow Mary (Betty Webster) had been alienated from her deceased son. Now elderly and infirm, Mary has little company other than her late son’s best friend John. There is a sense that they are made for each other in that both seem decidedly narrow-minded. Mary is given to using outdated words and phrases and John is so insular and set in his ways he fails to appreciate he is, in fact, a racist. Unusually, Mary has a guest—her grandson James (author Charlesworth who also directs) is visiting. Mary is determined James and John should not meet for one very obvious reason—her grandson is of mixed race.
Charlesworth makes clear his disappointment with the current state of the UK at a very early stage. The play opens with increasing hysterical political speeches that eventually blend into white noise. That really is the full extent of the overt political aspect of The Greek, which is promoted as a Brexit play without politics. Charlesworth is less concerned with criticising the political elite than with pointing out the ridiculous nature of the things that divide our society and how we have more in common than is initially apparent. He resists the temptation to make the script a series of one-liners, preferring to let the humour arise from the situation as The Greek is very much a play of modern manners (or lack thereof).
The characters in The Greek have a refreshing complexity. Selflessly, Peter Slater takes on the least appealing role but, although John is paranoid, has unpleasant views and is hardly bright (he dramatically reports that a neighbour is walking in a ‘normal’ manner), he is still willing to help Mary when her own family have been less obliging. The characters have surprising vulnerability and a willingness to admit to being wrong. Charlesworth shows James’s insecurities, confessing to Mary he feels a promotion is undeserved and is shocked that he took at face value his late father’s opinions of Mary.
Betty Webster has the most interesting character in the play. There is a growing sense that Mary has tolerated John out of pity, recognising he needs her company just as much as she depends on his assistance.
Charlesworth sets a realistically understated but warm tone. There is the old-fashioned sense that it is possible to reconcile differences over a pot of tea and a chat. But most significantly, Charlesworth makes the characters so appealing you hope that this may be the case.
In the current period of overheated intolerance and mud-slinging, the gentle but very funny approach taken in The Greek is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Reviewer: David Cunningham