Writer: Chesca Cholewa
Director: Milda Baginskaite
It’s always disappointing when advance publicity proves deceptive. In the case of My Old Man the company imagine if… promised “part theatre, part film”, with a cast of eight. In fact it is a film, with one actor – Chesca Cholewa, the writer – appearing on stage in three brief scenes in dialogue with a pre-recorded or filmed character. My Old Man passes an hour pleasantly, but it lacks the anticipated originality and emotional bite. The premiere performance added goodies in the form of a very decent singer of good songs as warm-up (and Dream a Little Dream of Me to introduce the film) and sets of dominos for the audience, seated at tables, to identify with Grandad Michal’s obsession.
The story is simple. Tasha (Cholewa) moves out of her grandfather’s house and gets a flat in Leeds. The grandfather, Michal, is a blind Polish war veteran. Then his next-door neighbour and dominoes opponent also moves out, to be replaced by a foul-mouthed bigot. Michal is tormented by loneliness and fears that partly derive from his war experience. Tasha is making her way as a children’s author and gains a very nice middle-class black boyfriend. A couple of explosive scenes and we are ready for a sweetly sentimental ending.
Milda Baginskaite’s direction and Brett Chapman’s on-location photography, aided by an effectively understated use of music, are both realistic and atmospheric. Michal Paul Shelley adds wry humour, resilience and a warm humanity to the blankness of suffering, but overall the characters are two-dimensional, though effectively played by such as Lorraine Bruce (unfailingly sympathetic as Cathy, the kindly dinner lady), Liam Fox (foul-mouthed and aggressive as the neighbour) and Aaron Cobham (a little too charming as the boyfriend). Chesca Cholewa as Tasha makes a virtue of ordinariness – and why not?
Any positive representation of Poles in Britain, a people who have done so much for us over the years, from pilots to plumbers, is to be welcomed, but you wonder how much of a message My Old Man carries: young people move away, but many of them still care about elderly relatives; old soldiers never die, Poles no less than British; bigots are loathsome. All these are true and, quite possibly, worth repeating, but neither ideas nor characters catch fire in a mostly low-key film.
Runs until 14th November 2021 and then tours nationwide