Writer: Stephen Lowe
Director: Matt Aston
Reviewer: Dave Smith
Forty years after its premiere at the same venue, Stephen Lowe’s Touched gets a welcome revival, with the added attraction of one of TV’s hottest properties, Vicky McClure (Line of Duty, This Is England, Broadchurch), taking on her first professional stage rôle in her home city.
The play is set in 1945, in the 100 days between the ends of the wars in Europe and Asia, during which the first majority Labour government is elected and a new wave of optimism sweeps the country. It centres on a family of working-class women in Nottingham, but while Joan (Aisling Loftus) and Betty (Chloe Harris) are getting caught up in the idea of a brave new world, for their sister Sandra (Vicky McClure), things are not quite so straightforward. Her husband is still away at war and she is still devastated with grief following the death of her son in a blackout car accident. Normally the reliable, steady one of the family, she’s also carrying a guilty secret that could tear the family apart.
While not the sort of play that will have you reaching for superlatives when describing it, Touched nevertheless feels real in every way and is a sensitive and poignant portrayal of ordinary women at a unique turning point in Britain’s history. Stephen Lowe’s script contains all the right ingredients to make a fine piece of theatre, while the characters, their situations and their reactions to them are all entirely authentic and credible.
This show is also testament to the fine work of the Nottingham Television Workshop, at which a large number of the cast trained, including the three women playing the sisters. Vicky McClure’s inexperience on the stage is barely noticeable – in fact, she seems to become more comfortable and natural as the play progresses. The standout performance, however, is delivered by Aisling Loftus as the brash, fearless and funny Joan. Solid support comes from Chloe Lewis as the naïve and romantic Betty, George Boden as the well-meaning but weak and barely indulged Johnny and Esther Coles as Sandra’s no-nonsense neighbour Mary.
In the end, however, Touched doesn’t challenge and disappointingly (and ironically) it doesn’t really touch. Sandra’s pain never comes across in a substantive way such that you feel moved by it. Whether that’s down to a conscious decision to add yet another level of authenticity – with so much death and trauma around, you were expected to move on and put things behind you, with little time for what would have likely been seen as self-indulgent behaviour – Matt Aston’s direction or Vicky McClure’s acting it’s hard to tell. Authentic it may be, but it doesn’t necessarily make for involving theatre.
Despite that, this is still an engaging, well-written and well-performed play that is sure to find further favour with a Nottingham audience, who apart from having the chance to watch a local actor made good, can also enjoy plenty of local references and nailed-on accents.
Good, but not great.
Runs until 4 March 2017 | Image: Contributed