Writer: Sandi Toksvig
Director: Rebecca Gatward
Reviewer: Paul Couch
According to the actor and comedian, Groucho Marx, “getting older is no problem – you just have to live long enough”. But for the five elderly women who comprise the ensemble cast of Sandi Toksvig’s Silver Lining, living long enough isn’t the problem, it’s having lived so long that they’ve survived their significant others and been forgotten by the next generation of family.
Unlike her first work for stage, the powerful and gripping Bully Boy, Silver Lining purports to be a comedy, albeit a gentle village hall affair that desperately tries to be a Faydeau farce. In a horribly misconceived script, we find the quintet of dowagers sitting around in the communal area of a retirement home in Gravesend, while around them the world goes to hell as flood waters rise, threatening to envelop their insular first-floor community.
They are joined by Hope Daly, an emergency volunteer of sorts, all sass and bad attitude, who has no time for old people and a phobia of water. Keziah Joseph’s Hope is perky enough, if somewhat two-dimensional, but seems to serve little purpose other than to be the target of casual racism by one character (one suspects an ardent Daily Mail reader) and to make it obvious in this monochrome world that young people and old people have a mutual distrust/dislike for each other (duh – really?).
Gloria is played by Benidorm’s Sheila Reid, like her colleagues a veteran stage actress, so the question remains why Gloria is all leopard skin-clad sausage and no sizzle in a mainly inaudible performance.
Maggie McCarthy is a splendidly indomitable May Trickett, charging around the space in her wheelchair like a stately galleon discharging cannonballs of acerbic barbs, mainly in the direction of her haughty sister, June (Joanna Monro), a devout Christian, who’s convinced her beloved daughter will imminently effect a rescue from both the rising waters and her companions.
In many of the witty one-liners cracked off by various characters – particularly June – one’s inner ear can actually hear Toksvig’s laconic wit but it just doesn’t sit well coming from the mouths of her creations. Indeed, Silver Lining has all the markings of a Toksvig stand-up routine cobbled together into a nonsensical and incoherent plot, which might have worked for Jerry Seinfeld, but fails miserably here.
Of course, in any storyline that features elderly people, dementia is a go-to cheap laugh. Enter St Michael (Amanda Walker – looking for all the world like Jessica Tandy in the final scenes of Driving Miss Daisy), so known because of her inability to remember her own name. Somebody checks the label in her dressing gown and… well, we can all see where this is going. When exactly did dementia become a subject of comedy?
Waving impressively proportioned novelty dildos around might solicit embarrassed, juvenile snorts from the middle-aged, middle-England audience but it’s a lazy gimmick that might be fine in a 1970s sex comedy but in one about five elderly ladies facing either death or a future abandoned by their families, it sticks out like, well, a sore thumb.
The second act is an entirely more sombre affair packed with interminable melodramatic soliloquies spouted by characters while others stare dead-eyed into the middle distance.
Whether the rest of Michael Taylor’s set suffered a mishap on the way to Ipswich, we shall likely never know, but beyond the three enormous windows of the well-observed and cavernous room in which all of the action happens, is a textbook disaster in missing backdrops and hyperactive stage crew. Mark Doubleday’s ham-fisted lighting plot does nothing to salvage the general aesthetic of the piece.
Sandi Toksvig is a respected writer, presenter and comedian. While Bully Boy was a sublime thing of wonder, Silver Lining is at the other end of the spectrum – a clumsy attempt at cramming important social commentary about responsibility to our dispossessed senior citizens into a bland and easily digestible feast. Why does Toksvig get it so wrong?
Runs until 18 March 2017 | Image: Mark Douet