Skip to main content

This Happy Breed

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Three stars

If ever there was a play where the phrase Keep Calm and Carry On would make the perfect publicity tag-line, Noel Coward's between the wars soap opera is it. Just as the phrase and its assorted derivatives have tapped into a kitsch form of post-austerity nostalgia for empire, Coward's play is an equally propagandist fanfare for the common man and woman designed to rally the troops.

Set in the crucial twenty years either side of the end of World War One and the dawn of World War Two, Coward's play charts the fortunes of the Gibbons family, who breathe bustling life into Ethel and her demobbed hubby Frank's newly acquired Clapham dining room. As period newsreels soundtracked by cheap songs usher in each scene, it is here the play resolutely remains throughout its everyday tapestry of births, deaths, family schisms, tragedy and joy. As voguish whiffs of progressive thought briefly subvert old certainties if not old prejudices, such detail resembles the sort of state of the nation epics that used to bring a hallmark of quality as well as socio-political insight to prime time TV drama.

While John Durnin's production is at times a tad wobbly and overplayed, a tenderness runs throughout, with a pair of fine central performances from Helen Logan and Mark Elstob as Ethel and Frank, as well as some purposeful cameos from the show's twelve-strong ensemble. As Ethel and Frank retire to the kitchen for one final cup of tea, one wonders how things will work out for pram-bound baby Frankie and his descendants over the next three quarters of a century, and whether they too will be keeping calm and carrying on.

The Herald, September 13th 2016

ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Maids

Dundee Rep

Two sisters sit in glass cases either side of the stage at the start of Eve Jamieson's production of Jean Genet's nasty little study of warped aspiration and abuse of power. Bathed in red light, the women look like artefacts in some cheap thrill waxworks horror-show, or else exhibits in a human zoo. Either way, they are both trapped, immortalised in a freak-show possibly of their own making.

Once the sisters come to life and drape themselves in the sumptuous bedroom of their absent mistress, they raid her bulging wardrobe to try on otherwise untouchable glad-rags and jewellery. As they do, the grotesque parody of the high-life they aspire to turns uglier by the second. When the Mistress returns, as played with daring abandon by Emily Winter as a glamour-chasing narcissist who gets her kicks from drooling over the criminal classes, you can't really blame the sisters for their fantasy of killing her.

Slabs of sound slice the air to punctuate each scene of Mart…

Phoebe Waller-Bridge - Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a busy woman. The thirty-two year old actress who burst onto our TV screens as writer and star of Fleabag, the tragi-comic sort of sit-com about a supposedly independent woman on the verge is currently overseeing Killing Eve, her new TV drama which she's written for BBC America. As an actress, Waller-Bridge is also filming a big screen project which we can't talk about, but which has already been outed as being part of the ongoing Star Wars franchise.

These are both pretty good reasons why Waller-Bridge won't be appearing in the brief Edinburgh Festival Fringe revival of the original stage play of Fleabag, when it opens next week at the Underbelly, where it was first unleashed to the world in 2013. In her place, Maddie Rice will take on the role of the potty-mouthed anti-heroine after touring Vickie Jones' production for Waller-Bridge and Jones' DryWrite company in association with Soho Theatre. This doesn't mean Waller-Bridge has turned…

The Divide

King's Theatre
Four stars

Everything is black and white in Alan Ayckbourn's new play, a six hour two part epic set in a dystopian future where men and women are segregated from each other following the aftermath of an unspecified plague. Into this landscape, the secret diaries of brother and sister Elihu and Soween are brought to life by Jake Davies and Erin Doherty with a wide-eyed lightness of touch as their hormones get the better of them when they both hit puberty.
Annabel Bolton's production for the Old Vic, EIF and Karl Sydow begins with a TED Talk type lecture that reveals the back story to how things turned out this way. It ends with a sentimental love story designed to tug the heart-strings. Inbetween, there is teenage rebellion aplenty against the regime's institutionalised repression. Liberation comes through art and sex, which, in such extreme circumstances become even greater life forces.

With both plays told through the siblings' diaries alongside ass…