Tuesday 18 December 2012

Old Money - Review

Hampstead Theatre, London

Written by Sarah Wooley
Directed by Terry Johnson

Maureen Lipman in rehearsal for Old Money
Old Money is a new play by Sarah Wooley. Encompassing three (with an unseen fourth) generations of a south London family, it considers growing old (dis)/gracefully and throws several family relationships under the microscope, in a play that is very good (in parts) and is skilfully directed by Terry Johnson
Central to the piece is Maureen Lipman’s Joyce who we meet, together with her mother, daughter and son in law, at the funeral of her just deceased husband of 40 odd years. Joyce is proud to be the same age as Paul McCartney, Jean Shrimpton et al and as the story unfolds, it is clear that she has been the subject of repression and enforced emotional denial throughout her adult life. She talks wistfully of an affair she had whilst a teenager with a married neighbour, as being the happiest years of her life and when we learn in act 2 of her resentment of the fact that her late husband actually selected her wedding dress, we get a glimpse of the extent to which he had been a controlling individual and how those around her had continually sought to smother her spark of character. Condemned to suburbia but yearning for the city, upon achieving widowhood Joyce forays occasionally into London, where stopping at a pub for some refreshment, she stumbles across Candy, a young stripper and single mother, with whom she strikes up the most inspiring of friendships. Played by Nadia Clifford, Candy positively fizzes with a Facebook fuelled energy of modern youth in a performance that is a charming foil to the older woman’s quirky discovery of independence. Miss Lipman’s performance however is nothing short of remarkable and in Joyce, Wooley has created a heroine that inspires and commands our sympathy. Such is Lipman’s expert craft that this gently ageing woman becomes a character whom we find ourselves passionately caring for and cheering on her journey.
Timothy Watson is Graham, the workshy musician married to Joyce’s careerist daughter Fiona, played by Tracy-Ann Oberman. In a familiar scenario, Fiona likes to spend whilst Graham cannot earn and their dependence upon Joyce’s cash, whilst being ever so recognisable, is a plot line too thinly fleshed out by Wooley. Similarly, their eagerness to move into Joyce’s home as theirs is repossessed is again a clich├ęd mechanism. Whilst Oberman’s performance and the challenges she encounters are real, the dialog afforded her frequently lacks credibility and depth.
In his poem This Be The Verse, Philip Larkin wrote the now much quoted line, “They f**k you up, your mum and dad, They may not mean to, but they do”.  Few people however are familiar with the second verse, that opens, “But they were f**ked up in their turn, By old style fools in hats and coats” nor with the third and final verse that commences “Man hands on misery to man….” Larkin's famous words are a bitter reflection on the failures of parenting, and suggest that the cycle repeats itself through the generations. With Old Money, Wooley seeks to argue that the premise of Larkin’s first two stanzas is correct, but by providing Lipman's character with an ultimate escape to a life of freedom and expression, Joyce's own treadmill of misery is ended (who cares about the callous, albeit pregnant, Fiona?) in a climax that maybe unbelievably cheesy but is still rather uplifting.
Runs to January 12th

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