Spode Works, Stoke on Trent, Saturday 14th October, 2017
Nora Moth tends to her dying father with the aid of neighbour Frances Berry. The doctor is a constant caller but when pot bank owner Richard Warham and Councillor Blythe start dropping in, Mrs Berry begins to suspect there’s more to things than the paying of respects…
Deborah McAndrew’s latest piece for Claybody Theatre is set in Burslam in the early 1950s. With the dialect, the accents and the jargon of the pottery industry, there is an air of authenticity to the piece. It could only be more Stokie if they made the costumes out of oatcakes. It’s a domestic piece – on the surface – as down-to-earth, plain-speaking, hard-working folk tackle a trying time in anyone’s life. But there is much more to this tight little play than kitchen-sink drama.
Rosie Abraham is a spirited young Nora, tightly wound and prone to sound off, due to the stress of nursing her dying dad, about to succumb to the local ailment of dust in the lungs. A neat contrast is Angela Bain as the helpful, older neighbour, not shy to voice her opinions and make her observations. With her humour and moralising, Mrs Berry would not be out of place in the early days of Coronation Street. Robin Simpson cuts a sympathetic figure as the attentive Doctor Copper; while Philip Wright’s suave owner, the debonair Mr Richard, lends the piece an almost Catherine Cookson air. Jason Furnival’s campaigning councillor brings the story away from speculation over Nora’s parentage to issues with farther-reaching implications… And here McAndrew pulls no punches. Cover-ups and conspiracies bubble to the surface and a dark truth comes to light, leaving Nora with a moral morass of a dilemma.
Conrad Nelson’s direction retains the naturalistic tone of scenes about cups of tea and borrowing sugar in later moments when the tension boils over; by this time we are invested in the characters – the womenfolk especially – as the men scramble to cover their tracks and then seek some kind of damage limitation. It’s electrifying and a thrill to see such an excellent ensemble at work, with scenic dynamics handled so well, so powerfully.
Dawn Allsopp’s design shows us house-proud poverty, cosily lit by John Slevin – but this is not just a nostalgia fest performed at a heritage site. The domesticity of the set is surrounded by the post-industrial venue – the industrial landscape of the city has changed enormously but the issues aired by the play are still with us today. We are still beset by vested interests seeking to cover up or outright deny the environmental impact of their businesses. People are still getting bought off to protect us from the truth.
Site specific though the piece may appear, its appeal and significance extend beyond the Potteries. Thought-provoking, intriguing and rich with humanity, Dirty Laundry is further proof that Deborah McAndrew is one of our most reliably excellent playwrights.