Love stories take many forms. Here – electric, understated, unmistakeable and timeless – the erotic connection is between Ben Batt’s George , farm labourer in a tied cottage in the 1960s, and Jonathan Bailey as the assistant director of the York Passion plays. George has been recruited as an authentic local voice, urged on despite his rugged modesty by the sweet chapel-going Doreen (Katie West a quiet delight) who takes his old Mum to Meetings and knows, deep down, that he is “not for marrying”.



Still illegal, though quietly tolerated by the farm family, the affair is also doomed by the utter divergence of their habitats, lifestyles, and a sense of distance between town and country which today feels both authentic and, mercifully, dated. TV would by now have rubbed some of the rugged chapel-and-calving simplicities off Mother , neighbour Doreen, and the delightfully gormless teenage nephew Jack; fast communication might have held the lads together for longer. Even though John won’t give up his advancing southern career to live in a leaky nearby cottage, while George makes it clear that London and its attractions were fine for visiting but “I live here”! With some sorrow he rejects John’s faith that he could actually have an acting career “I’m past that”. Today, God willing, he would be working in Sheffield Theatre, co-producer of this production.



For Peter Gill’s 2002 play, which won plaudits but not universal acclaim at first (Charles Spencer was entertainingly rude) is rendered in the Donmar’s intimacy by director Robert Hastie as something perfect: delicate, clear and natural as an upland upland brook. It can be earthy – George is the seducer , and has a startling admission of how he found out that he was gay after chasing girls unsuccessfully one evening and then saying to his mate “Better be you, then..”. John, more fey and puppyishly shyer, rises to passionate declaration and thwarted anger only later, after the death of old Mum (a fine Lesley Nicol, ringing utterly true to anyone with Yorkshire relatives of a certain age).



It is full of glancing, important themes, and not just about odd-couple love (it rather helps that the lovers are gay: in a 1960s heterosexual tale the girl would almost certainly have gone to live where and how the man chose). It also reflects on how an urban middle-class had colonized the world of “culture”, as the locals are given their own heritage of mystery plays by directorial incomers. Yet where that’s concerned, the most heartening scene is after the interval as the whole family, including lumpen Arthur the brother-in-law and teenage Jack, get back exhilarated from the show to exclaim about how grand it was, and how swept up they were by the old story and how George, as a tormentor, was “that cruel!”.


box office 0203 282 3808 to 24 March

RATING four 4 Meece Rating


Comments Off on THE YORK REALIST Donmar, WC2

Filed under Four Mice, Uncategorized





“I never boasted an education. I learned tricks” says Princess Margaret, bitterly, at a late point in Richard Stirling’s interesting but frustrating new play. For a moment you think – yes, that’s it! if a wilful, lively, pretty young woman learns nothing of science, history, and the deeper nobility of history and literature, but all she is given is that Princess status, things will go sour for her. And they did. Between the impertinent imaginations of The Crown on Netflix , and the brilliant “99 glimpses” collected from memoirs by Craig Brown in his book Ma’am Darling, there is a resurgence of interest in the Queen’s late sister. So Stirling’s play is well placed to attract interest.



And with more refinement, it could be genuinely worthwhile. It encounters the Princess in lateish middle age and the royal family’s Annus Horribilis: she’s divorced from Snowdon , resenting Diana (“Golden Girl”) and bitching about the “rentaKents” next door. Separated for the moment from her young lover Roddy, she is engaged in a curious incident, based on reality, when she burned a number of potentially damaging letters and papers from the Queen Mother’s Clarence House.



Stirling himself plays the QM’s ‘page” Backstairs Billy, with rather more camp than is strictly necessary, assisting her and keeping the drinks coming. A fictional young chancer turns up, to indicate the general hunger for royal gossip and leaks, and in the second and more interesting half the thuggish ex-con Bindon (in real life one of her Mustique pals) turns up, terminally ill, to challenge her.



That bit is interesting, touching at times. And Felicity Dean is brilliant as Margaret, catching – whenever the script allows – a confusion between being posh and frozenly Princessy and being slangy and matey: a problem widely observed by those who perceived her best. Patrick Toomey’s Bindon is strong too, and between them we get some real chemistry. Though I doubt he’d have rough-housed her as readily with staff in the next room, ex-lover or not.


But the terrible slow-burn of the first half merely exasperates: the witty one-liners are placed too obviously from real memoirs, and you get no real sense of the mixed hauteur and familiarity in her rather overlong dealings with Billy. I really want this to be a better play, and it may grow into one. But too much misfires. The best line is when Bindon threatens her saying “If you were a man – “ and she snaps “If I were a man, I’d be king”. That hits home. to 17 March
rating two  2 meece rating

PS    By the way, the excellent co-production of A Passage to India is still running in the bigger space at the Park…till the 24th.  This is my Northampton review of it:




Comments Off on A PRINCESS UNDONE Park Theatre N4

Filed under Two Mice, Uncategorized

FROZEN Theatre Royal, Haymarket




Last time I encountered a monologue written for a paedophile abuser, it was by Alan Bennett in a remarkable – and I think unrepeated – TV Talking Heads . That was a brave and haunting performance by David Haig as a tempted, succumbing, park-keeper with an edge of virtuous prissiness about other people’s behaviour. Braver still, because ineffably nastier, but with that same edge of prissiness we have here Jason Watkins’ rendering of “Ralph”. Bryony Lavery’s multiply disturbing play is about a mother’s experience when her 10 year old daughter has been first missing, then confirmed dead ,dismembered and stored in a lock-up shed by a man with a stash of “Lesbian Lolitas” videos who is capable of saying petulantly to a psychiatrist “The only thing I”m sorry about is that it’s not legal. Killing girls”. He got seven of them, over 21 years .



There are three stunning performances – Jason Watkins’ knock-kneed, lame- footed, hunchedly amiable and incurable selfpitying killer shows off his tattoos and brags about his gift for organisation. Suranne Jones is the dead child’s mother, assuredly moving between mundane Midlands practicality beneath her fine ironic eyebrows and the deepest, angriest of griefs before reaching a strange resolution. And you believe in every step. The third, the wild card, is Nina Sosanya as an American-Icelandic psychologist , KCL lecturer and author of a paper entitled “Serial killing – a forgivable act?”  She is of the school that considers atrocities as symptoms, not sins.


Which took Lavery – early on the curve –  into the now-modish dramatic territory of neuroscience and theories about frontal lobe deficiencies, early influence on empathetic connection, bangs on the head leading to irresistible criminal impulses, etc. It all feels very up to date, though the play first aired over a decade ago.   Additional dramatic interest – and a bit of artful internal sabotage – is added because the psychiatrist is a bit of a horror herself. Our first glimpses of Sosanya, in the sequence craftsmanlike initial monologues, shows the learned scientist having the screaming abdabs over leaving New York, then sitting on a plane writing vengeful messages to her illicit lover and research colleague while necking brandy,  insulting the stewardess and greeting the seat-belt sign with a shriek of “We’re all going to die” .Nor are her “boundaries” in a series or prison interviews with Ralph very convincingly set, given that her own self -pity and self-importance are almost as marked as his.



But maybe that’s the point: certainly in the electric, even more uncomfortable second act when against the bossy shrink’s recommendation the mother confronts the killer in a restorative-justice meeting. Rapidly (God, Suranne Jones is good, and Watkins a brave actor!) she reaches more important depths than the expert ever did.  Lavery is never a simplistic writer, so I hope she will forgive a certain bracing conclusion which any of us may make as we shiver in the stalls: that when it comes to understanding the depth, strangeness, redeemability and motivation of human beings you will get more insight from a tough ordinary mother with life-experience than from any self-regarding American psychiatrist who calls herself a “voyager in the frozen wastes of the criminal mind.”



You could also reflect that forgiveness is the best revenge. It certainly turns out that way in the agonizing final scenes. It’s a terrific play, actually. And on a frozen snow-day on the Haymarket, I should record that instinctively most of a middling-thin matinee audience rose to its feet to applaud the three principals. Oh, and turning up late post-holiday, I bought my own stalls ticket and don’t regret it for a moment.


box office 020 7930 8800 to 5 May
rating four   4 Meece Rating




Comments Off on FROZEN Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Filed under Four Mice, Uncategorized




I am happy to say that in the second act there is some inappropriate sexual harassment. By garishly clad fairies, deploying weaponized soprano trills and terrorism-by-tutu as they move in crazed by desire for the middle aged, timidly bachelorly members of the House of Lords. That their Queen and their faery laws forbid marriage to mortals means nothing to the reckless, trippingly St-Trinian chorus: Iolanthe got away with it and bore a camp demi-fairy son Strephon after all. And any minute now, assisted by some legislative sleight of hand, their Queen too will succumb to a philosophically minded mortal guardsman and give him instant wings.



I was not always a devotee of Gilbert-and-Sullivan , having been depressed by too much D’Oyly Cartery in youth. But newer productions – notably the hilarious all-male ones – have drawn me back, and this completes it. For English National Opera to recruit Cal McCrystal – our most precise and inventive creator of physical comedy – to direct this feyest of politico-legal satires from 1882 is a masterstroke.



Musically of course it is splendid, under Timothy Henty and with the ENO chorus and seasoned soloists (Samantha Price as Iolanthe is, wisely, allowed the show’s one un-comical and genuinely moving operatic moment as she pleads for her son near the end). Paul Brown’s design, with pretty Pollock-theatrey cutouts and a very nice wheel-on House of Lords, is beautifully Victorian , with added nonsense when the peers crash through the paper backdrop aboard Stephenson’s Rocket . Several fairies (and one peer) do fly. But McCrystal’s touch, and comic vision, is what makes it special.



From the first moment when the fairies, of all shapes and sizes, trip into their opening chorus in dazzling chaotic outfits, acorn-capped or daffodil-daffy, and move like a determined keep-fit class for mature Lacroix fashion-victims, you have to laugh. At the dances, the moves, the drink-dispensing unicorn, the gloriously absurd puppetry going wrong. The director has brought in three of his regular performers for the extreme physicality – notably Richard Leeming as the Chancellor’s page is hurled around almost distressingly and emerges gamely every time. But the operatic regulars are more than up for it, stomping and tripping and milking every good joke. When Marcus Farnsworth’s amiable nitwit Strephon sings his lovely duet with Ellie Laugharne’s Phyllis, they gamely ignore the fact that the black-masked puppeteers manoeuvring sheep behind them can’t see through their masks, and bump into one another as helplessly they search for the wings. Which feels, delightfully, like a nod of acknowledgement to the hundreds of am-dram productions of G &S down the years which kept the flame alive..



Anyway, it’s a delight. Really is. The new jokes – notably the fireman one – are a pleasure, but not too much is done to modernize it. And surtitles, if you can tear your eye away from the mayhem on stage, remind us of the utter brilliance, the absurdism, mad rhymes, unexpected neatness and damn sharp satire which WS Gilbert flung out like a literary Catherine-wheel. Gorgeous. I recant. I regret the years of avoiding G&S.


box office 0333 023 1550 to 7 April
rating five  5 Meece Rating





Comments Off on IOLANTHE ENO Coliseum, WC1

Filed under Five Mice, Uncategorized

THE SHADOW FACTORY Nuffield City, Southampton



Two girls on the Downs in 1940 giggle over a spot of rabbit-poaching on Lady Cooper’s land. A roar, Junkers overhead. Figures emerge from smoke and darkness as a chanting urgent chorus,: “Over the river – Woolston way – Quick, this one’s for real , bolt the shutters, fill up the bath, fill up the sinks, water if there’s fire, change of clothes, candles, soap, photo album – Cos if..cos if…come the all-clear and your house has gone…”.



We read and reconstruct a lot about the London Blitz, but this Southampton story deserves telling too: Howard Brenton, a clear eye and eloquent historical storyteller, has immersed himself in the facts about it and found an imaginative intuition. The story of the Spitfires is itself extraordinary: in eight weeks of that year 489 planes were damaged, 785 lost; the Supermarine factory in Southampton was key, and they were constantly in production through the war years with constant improvements in design. When the factory was bombed – as happens at the start of this play – machine tools were saved and other trade premises in the city and beyond were requisitioned under draconian wartime rules. They built components to be assembled at Eastleigh: the fight continued.



Brenton has taken real characters – Beaverbrook, the bombastic newspaper-owner and minister for aircraft production, and the heroic works engineer Len Gooch – but imagined a family business as the heart of his story: a laundry. Avoiding the cliché of a brave united mustn’t-grumble wartime Britain, he acknowledges not only the steadfastness but the wobble, the anger, the fear, the resentment of government.

If there is a faultless wartime hero it is Daniel York’s Gooch; a heroine, Shala Nyx as a young woman thrilled and inspired by her design job at the factory. David Birrell’s laundry-owner Fred meanwhile is pessimistic, indignant at the requisition, hostile and defensive, afraid. His daughter Jackie (Lorna Fitzgerald) is embittered on losing her soldier lover and has to grope her way towards understanding and finding a role. HIs mother, made splendidly terrifying by Anita Dobson who doubles as the aristocratic chatelaine, is as tough an egg in her way as Hilton McRae’s swaggering Beaverbrook.



So the play does not echo that tone of compulsory their-finest-hour heartwarming which marked the patriotic films of the period (which in some ways it does resemble). The differences resolve, and Southampton was heroic in many ways; but the story has variety and bite and human failings. So under Samuel Hodges’ direction and Leo Warner’s inspired design, it takes off. I had to catch an early preview, but nothing faltered. Brenton allows his characters sharp poetry too: when the factory is bombed you need no pictures beyond Jackie’s gasped “The look of it – dust in the air – snakes, no not snakes, fire hoses… everywhere sopping wet…grey – shapes of things that are all wrong…and you see, but don’t see, lying in bricks half a person, no legs..”



It’s the first production in this new space, and what they have done is to set it on a vast thrust stage, blank as concrete, so that the community chorus can come and go and scenes change instantly; projections turn the floor into the grassy Common where terrified householders would “trek out” and camp during bombing raids, or into Whitehall, or the grand house with its carpets and long graceful windows which becomes the design studio and sees its mistress banished to the attics. Above the stage, moving light-bars become roofs high or low . And – spectacularly at last – turn into the graceful, miraculous, moving forms of aeroplane wings.
Oh, and there’s a good surprise at the end, in a sack.


box office to 3 march
rating four   4 Meece Rating



Comments Off on THE SHADOW FACTORY Nuffield City, Southampton

Filed under Four Mice, Uncategorized





There are some evenings when, as the cast take their bow with that half-relaxed half-smile, you are shocked: you feel you have not been watching a performance but witnessing a great human ordeal. Eugene O’Neill’s best play, a three-and-a-half hour fugue of unhappiness and love, is both exhausting and strangely invigorating. Maybe it is as simple as “they survived, so we can”. But more likely it is that in its acknowledgement of vast insoluble human pain, it becomes a hand reaching out across time to take yours. Whether you believe like the morphine-addled Mary that the Virgin Mary is still up there, or like her tubercular son Edmund that Nietzsche was right and God is dead, the point is that others have felt it all before you. And as Mary says “None of us can help the things life has done to us..”.



Lesley Manville, whose wrenching, delicately controlled pain scorched through Richard Eyre’s unforgettable production of Ibsen’s GHOSTS a while back, now shines in an extraordinary performance under the same director . The immense, intimate epic of addiction and love is set in Rob Howell’s blue-glass, skewed imagination of a summer house by the sea. She is in turns flirty, scared, angry, manic, cooing, sly, spiteful, querulous, loving, dangerous, excited, resentful: changing within seconds. She is the Tyrone family’s madonna, their fount of love, their toxic time-bomb: the eternal addict who is the enemy of ease because of what is (for a long time) not spoken of: the hypodermic, the stash upstairs.

The long day unfurls into nightmare from the initial family banter, breakfast-time prattling as if nothing was wrong except the patriarch’s snoring, Edmund’s “summer cold” and Jamie’s dissipation. But Eyre’s meticulous detailing shows the opening of cracks which will widen to chasms. Jeremy Irons is the retired actor, growlingly affectionate, exasperated by his sons then suddenly lovingly amused, pulling his beloved wife onto his lap. But he betrays an anxious need for control in sudden tidiness, picking up Jamie’s cup off the sofa and fussily plumping cushions. His Mary is too bright, to chatty for comfort; elder son Jamie is watchful, his brother Edmund aware of his own illness but being constantly pulled back to share in the observation of his mother. For after the bright hope of her return from the sanatorium, she is relapsing. Dare they believe it ? Jamie explicitly does; his father attempts denial. Through that first act the most telling (and truthful) detail is often just a stillness: anyone who has lived with an addict, a relapsing alcoholic, or self-harming depressive will recognize that nervous stillness: everyone watching, hoping this isn’t the bad thing back again, knowing it probably is.



Every one of them must find refuge: old Tyrone in memories of the great Shakespearian he thinks he might have been, Edmund in Swinburne and Schopenhauer and Ibsen (“filth and degenerates” says his father), Jamie in drinking and whoring. Every ordinary weakness is magnified by the central, demonic thing in their midst. The fog comes down, swirls beyond the glass walls. Back-story emerges: a nomadic theatrical life, bare hotel rooms and dirty trains, her babies born on the road, his near-miserly fear of poverty and absurd land deals, the baby who died, the doctor who hooked her on morphine when Edmund was newborn, the social gulf between the couple when they married. But as most of this comes through Mary’s rattling monologues and resentful mood-swings, you are never quite sure what to count.



Absurdity runs alongside the tragedy, horribly funny moments always a second away from a lethal shaft of pain. Later, when the morphine is openly spoken of, Manville’s prattling insistence that when Edmund is better and things are easier she will definitely beat it, Matthew Beard’s Edmund stares sideways out at us, hollow-eyed, defeated by her denial. When Rory Keenan’s Jamie comes home drunk and obscene, baiting a tipsy father and brother, it cannot be long before the restless footsteps upstairs bring the dreaded, loved mother into their midst, drifting farther away from them than ever. The poetry is in the pity. I have rarely seen anything more delicately, honestly, skilfully sorrowful. to 7 april

RATING five 5 Meece Rating


Comments Off on LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT Wyndham’s, WC2

Filed under Five Mice, Uncategorized

THE CULTURE – a farce in two acts Hull Truck



Right place, right time, a last flurry of fireworks by the Humber. The hottest of young playwrights, James Graham, lovingly teases the city where he was a student : a place more joked-about than celebrated, but in an unexpectedly enthusiastic mood about itself. He reimagines and larkily mocks the end of its City of Culture year, as a manically overenthusiastic team prepares to hand the baton to Coventry the C of C for 2021.



It’s a great idea, and studded with good jokes both about Hull itself, the wackier events of the year, local authority ploddery and – principally – the absurdity of bureaucrats trying to evaluate the point of art through statistics and surveys. On one side big fat folders and prattle about outcomes and targetation, metrics, amalgamated workstreams and data-capture; on the other the kind of artist who pitches up with equally loopy jargon and a “Transportational Touch Exhibit” involving a blindfold , a caseful of objects and a chanted commentary through a distant microphone.


The inciting incident of the plot itself is the kind of modernism which brings  the aggrieved Dennis the sign-maker to turn up and accidentally disrupt the big day. He put an old fridge and sofa out for the Council refuse collectors, all correct, and it immediately got elected as an artwork, surrounded by keen art students and attracting respectful coachloads from Leeds.



All ll great stuff. And Andrew Dunn as Dennis is, as ever, a gem of grumpy, eloquent, dryly bluff blokeishness.  To get the idea, remember him as Tony in Dinnerladies on TV. Indeed quite often this play feels like James Graham channelling Victoria Wood: and once Ab-Fab too, as Janice the overkeen volunteer is played by Nicola Reynolds (in one of three fast-changing roles ) as pure Bubble.   So we’re rather at an angle from the familiar Graham of tightly researched, purposeful and beautifully structured recent-history plays – This House, Ink, Labour of Love. And he is not a natural farceur, though there are some intricate misunderstandings, crossed lines, redial-jokes and a lot of dashing about through doors.

It comes to life best when the people are more credible than merely comic: shrieking Janice is far too broad, and Amelia Donkor as Lizzie, the manic statistician who is trying to organize the handover and presentation is far too hectic.   There is no sense of how she really is, still less of how she ended up in Hull.   Mark Babych, otherwise directing with pace and farce-door ingenuity, would have done better to slow down her gabble-and-shriek, which  blurs into incomprehension some of Graham’s fine parodic jokes about her trade.



But the second half in particular is full of strong laughs, some nicely smutty, some manic, and many particularly fun for Hull people (I came with my husband, a former Radio Humberside man, who got them all).   Short cameo characters are great – especially Nicola Reynolds as a smugly self-assured DCMS minister, and Matt Sutton doubling as a furious Labour council chief in a red tie and a bored lawyer, who has a late artistic catharsis brought on by blue cake-icing (don’t ask). There are two nice phone events with local heroes Tom Courtenay and Maureen Lipman, and a nicely thrown-away reference to them both melting down in pique later.



Martin Hyder is terrific as both the baffled Coventry council chief (“I thought you just toss some cash to some artists and they do some art?”) and later as another volunteer, an ageing ex-deckie off the trawlers of long ago. He is glowing with pride at having done masterclasses in both CPR and LGBT “so I can both save lives and talk to gay people’. He gets, near the end, a moment of truth when he admits that as the year ends he’ll miss it, the sense of belonging that vanished when the fishing declined. Dunn too speaks for Hull’s pride and insecurity too, in the final moments. And it is in those moments that we’re back with the Graham we know, humane and perceptive.


So not one of his best plays, though the arguments about measuring art are sharp and useful. But at this moment, in this place, it’s a lovely thing. I’m glad to have been there. to 17 February

rating three.  3 Meece Rating


Comments Off on THE CULTURE – a farce in two acts Hull Truck

Filed under Three Mice, Uncategorized