Tag Archives: Jason Furnival

Harried Potters & The Tea-Service of Secrets

DIRTY LAUNDRY

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.

Rosie-Abraham-and-Angela-Bain-Dirty-Laundry-Photo-by-Andrew-Billington-1-700x455

Rosie Abraham and Angela Bain (Photo: Andrew Billington)

 

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Parton is such sweet sorrow

THE KITCHEN SINK

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Thursday 29th September, 2016

 

One advantage the New Vic has when it comes to naturalistic works is the intimacy afforded by the in-the-round setting.  The audience becomes all four walls of the room, and these walls have ears (and eyes too) to witness what transpires within this family’s home.  Bronia Housman’s set looks lived-in while giving the action room to breathe.  The kitchen/dining room is surrounded by thousands of milk bottle tops – Dad Martin is a milkman: his home is built on the fruits of his labours.

We meet Mum, Kath, (an excellent Emma Gregory) a warm-hearted, loving, funny woman, a problem-solver and supportive mother.  There is a warmth emanating from Gregory’s characterisation, even when she’s not saying a word.  Kath is the heart of this home and the production.  Her husband (Jason Furnival) is less optimistic, less open to change, in a thoroughly realistic depiction of an embittered working-class man, striving to survive the prevailing economic climate.  His business is suffering because of the rise of Tesco and his float is on its last legs.  Meanwhile, daughter Sophie (Alice Proctor) ‘helps out’ having lost her own job when Woolworth’s closed down.

Proctor is superb – we come to understand her as the play goes on and her of her boyfriend and also the judge of her jujitsu exam, in a subtle revelation that is touching.  Tom Wells’s writing makes us care about these people from the off.  Dan Parr is also great as Sophie’s awkward but good-natured plumber boyfriend Pete.  Tongue-tied and sweet, he endears himself to us immediately – and makes us laugh a lot, too.

Completing the family is the likeable Steven Roberts as son Billy, sensitive and artistic with a passion for Dolly Parton.  Billy is heading for art college in London and it is refreshing to see a play in which the gay character’s sexuality is not the issue.  It just is what it is.  Roberts is a mass of youthful energy, and teenage attitude, and Wells’s writing convinces.  The family rings true; there is a lot of love in this house.  I defy you not to care about them.

Director Zoe Waterman handles the humour expertly.  No beat is missed and yet the dialogue comes across as natural, the laughs organic rather than set-ups.  Even the moments of broad comedy (due mostly to the eponymous sink) come within the bounds of plausibility.  Waterman gets the tone exactly right throughout.  She has her cast continue to act during scene transitions (underscored by Ms Parton’s biggest hits). It all makes for an entertaining evening – it’s an absolute pleasure to spy on these people and have our funny bones tickled and our heartstrings tugged.

This is the “hard-working family” we hear so much about, large as life and before our very eyes, trampled beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of big business.  The play makes its points subtly, through the personal lives of the characters and their relationships.

A flawless production, heart-warming and hilarious.  We see the characters’ dreams go down the drain but they have plenty of love on tap.

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Hello, Dolly. Emma Gregory and Steven Roberts (Photo: Geraint Lewis)