Writer: Shelagh Delaney
Director: Matt Grinter
Reviewer: Harry Mottram
In the confined space of the Alma Tavern Theatre, we enter the claustrophobic world of northern England on the cusp of the 1960s. It’s damp, dingy and depressing in the Salford flat designed by Jenny Davies with its shared bathroom and lavatory down the corridor. There’s Jo, her mother, Helen, and her abusive husband-to-be, Peter. And there’s the joy of damp bedclothes, luke-warm coffee and a heater that doesn’t work. It’s not a love nest but rather a snapshot of British social angst of the late 1950s where there’s nothing much to eat except soggy biscuits.
Rebecca Robson, as Helen, crackles with sexual and social frustration as she snaps, scolds and scathes anything and anyone who doesn’t fit into her narrow view of the world. Her unlikely looking daughter, Jo (Bethan Croome), takes most of the flack although with her flat, Merseyside accent she deflects every insult with some of Delaney’s best lines. On her mother fishing for compliments: “You don’t look 40. You look a sort of well-preserved 60.” And on her mother’s fake concern for her care: “The time to have taken care of me was years ago when I couldn’t take care of myself.”
It’s a world where black men are the ultimate taboo, gay men are disgusting ‘pansies’ and, worst of all, foreign food such as spaghetti is so horrific it should probably be isolated and exterminated.
Director Matt Grinter’s take on Shelagh Delaney’s 1958 social drama plays it straight. With an authentically grotty set, period music and evocative yellow lighting, Red Rope Theatre’s production of one of the classics of the post-war era doesn’t disappoint. Elliot Chapman as Peter may have overstated his case at first but his underlying aggressive alcoholic persona who goes too far unnerved just enough. Jimmie played by Joey Akubeze was perfectly nuanced as he woos both Jo and Geoff, portrayed by Zach Powell in a sympathetic style, was an effective foil to Jo, who in turns abuses him and leans on him for support.
The required chemistry between mother and daughter is initially lacking, but Bethan Croome as Jo grows into the role as the drama unfolds and is at her best in Act 2 when sparring with Geoff in the most challenging role to play: the classic coming-of-age teenager caught up in the injustices of the world but armed with unfeasibly witty show-stopping lines.
Gritty, gripping and a window on a past era with timeless themes of injustice, mother and daughter conflict and social inequalities that remain as relevant today as they did in the pre-Wilsonian era.
Runs until 29 October 2016| Image: Contributed