GUEST REVIEWER LUKE JONES ENJOYS THE GRANS AND GANGSTERS
The heyday, the heyday. Everyone’s Gran loves to chew over the heyday with anyone they can pin in a chair. But what if the man who came through the door, who took tea, biscuits and chat, was a gangster? And the heyday was a criminal 60s East End?Philip Ridley’s play is a burning drama. A match is struck in Torchie Sparks’ elderly memory and the vicious, twisted fallout rips through her already flame-ravished flat. She loves it. Her new-wave gangster granddaughter (Rio), however, can’t handle it.
Sheila Reid (with a wrinkly face like an OS map) plays Torchie’s wide and rosy-eyed nostalgia beautifully. Ridley’s style, where reminisces are exorcised in the present like troubling dreams, struggles at first. It is emotionally confusing and asks too much too early. But the director, Russell Bolam, draws these out nicely as the play progresses and we become more involved. Good gags, neat anecdotes and juicy character finally being to trickle through. These moments breeze past you at first. But then, as when sat with any rambling pensioner, you feel yourself getting more and more involved. This is largely due to Michael Feast’s ugly yet brilliant performance as Mr.Flood. He was the Mr.Big of 60s Bethnal Green who now, like old Torchie, is living on old memories; dancing with ghosts no longer there. Wearing suits he shouldn’t be, pulling influence he doesn’t have. His Michael Cain vowels rumble, and his face works the most criminal grimaces imaginable.
An unsettling backstory begins to unfold. But it clunks around, getting mixed with the uninteresting and glib members of Rio’s girl-gang; a man-hating, knife-wielding, evangelical rebellion to Mr.Floods memory of besuited heavies and protection rackets. It fumbles around this conflict but manages to build to a real emotional kick as his links with the family become apparent. Rio’s scenes with Mr.Flood chill the room. Florence Hall’s performance is intelligent and sharp. She doesn’t slip into a rage as easily as her gang mates, opting instead for quiet anger. The dialogue she is given is a rough mixture, but she excavates through it well. This is a dark but funny look at a twisted heyday surely too scarring to forget. A production with textual problems but top performances.
Box Office: 020 7503 1646 TO 16th October