IVY AND JOAN Jermyn St Theatre, SW1




Lancashire Ivy is waiting for a bus to Manchester, refined Joan for a taxi to a psychiatric clinic. Neither is happy, and nor are their menfolk. Ivy’s longsuffering foil is Vic the barman.; Joan’s a terminally irritated husband. Both women are played by Lynne Miller, both men by Jack Klaff.

These two unconnected one-act plays by James Hogan appeared first in another theatre as near-monologues: showcases for a versatile actress in the style of Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads” . (Sorry: Mr Hogan must be sick of that comparison). But now rewritten and tenderly directed by Antony Biggs, they become two-handers giving the men more red meat. On which nourishment Klaff flourishes with an assured virtuosity to equal Ms Miller’s.



The first play shows us Ivy, waiting to leave the glum hotel where a cut-price wedding is tinkling away overhead. She is sacked after forty years as that old-fashioned thing, live-in hotel staff. She is a-boil with resentment at the management (“I know too much, that’s why they want me out”), and at a newly arrived “little Miss Button-Missing” flaunting her cleavage in her old domain. Someone’s broken her favourite saucer, too, and there is still no sign of her one-night sweetheart from four decades ago, to whom she hopefully writes “care of the Merchant Seaman’s Association”.



Miller plays it with an entertainingly resentful vigour, parried by poor Vic with his barman’s jacket and his racing paper. He has been told to see her off the premises without her disrupting the wedding. There are some fine exchanges as they reminisce about bygone glories and dead seaside-rep stars (“Why do terrible things happen to nice people?”- “YOU needn’t worry..”). But we always feel the tide ebbing, uncertain ageing, a threnody for bygone life.



In the second playlet Miller as Joan is something altogether more disturbing, more Beckettian than Bennettian. With her husband – Klaff also changing tone and class to be a fretful, irritable pedant-cum-carer – she is deep into injury time in a dissolving, haunted marriage. She has some undefined psychiatric illness: thwartedly female, delusional about her artistic abilities and allure. A holiday in Venice has brought their joint lives to a crisis. He cannot bear her wittering devotedly about a white-suited gigolo tour guide “Signore Dottore Marcello di Eduardo”, and she cannot abide his religiosity – which seems to have got him sacked as a schoolteacher – or his snobbish insistence on correcting her pronunciation as she veers around art, poetry, and a troubling obsession with 15c Venetian tortures.



Whether he is psychologically her anchor or her jailer is uncertain. Their spiky duet is skilfully written and paced and more than skilfully performed, but maybe – call me a wuss – a bit too painful for pleasure . Stays with you, though: if you’re a woman in middle age it’s the shudder as someone steps on your grave.



Box office: 020 7287 2875 Email: info@jermynstreettheatre.co.uk
http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk To 24 Jan

Rating: three   3 Meece Rating


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