Saturday 28 June 2014

My Girl 2

Old Red Lion Theatre, London


Written by Barrie Keefe
Directed by Paul Tomlinson

Emily Plumtree

Sam is a social worker. An over worked, underpaid carer on the front line, confronting horrific child cruelty and neglect whilst drowning in debt. His wife Anita stays at home in their impoverished drafty council flat, a loving mum but emotionally chained and drained by parenthood and heavily pregnant with a second baby. Sam's 30th birthday looms and whilst he may be a hero to the abused at work, at home he threatens violence to his child and tells lies to his wife, as the couple drift further apart.

Sam is an everyday Walter Mitty, though possibly a far too recognisable reflection to too many. He avoids telling his wife about the extent of their payday loan indebtedness and spins pie-in-the-sky yarns to his bank manager about when the overdraft will be repaid. He is also involved in a relationship with a case/client which is at best inappropriate and at worst un-believable. In what is a tough role, Alexander Neal makes a fine job of bringing Sam's life into the confines of the flat from which the play's action never leaves. Burdened by painful boils, that he responds to with acute hypochondria he remains a whinger, whilst Anita remains the heavily tested glue that binds their nuclear family. 

Keefe is an astute writer who doesn't just have his finger on the pulse of modern England, he presses the nation's carrotid, hard. Updating his 1989 play My Girl which was a comment on Thatcherite times, he is in fact at his best when he goes off-picket line and writes about people driven to extremes, rather than politics. In Emily Plumtree's Anita one finds a stellar off-West End performance as she wrings the profound perception of the human condition from Keefe's writing. Perceptive to her husband's failings, but unaware of the depths of his flaws, she dreams of escaping their urban slum for a big house in Braintree. As Keefe’s narrative reveals quite how deceitful Sam has been to her, Plumtree's character goes from disbelief to defiance and ultimately desperation. Brilliant, harrowing and often unbearable to watch, Anita is a heroine in a play that at times suggests a modern day Greek tragedy.

Paul Tomlinson directs with sensitivity, coaxing the nuances of well written cockney grit from both performers. My Girl 2 does not make for easy watching, particularly with an ending of ambivalent despair, but it is one of the more thought-provoking pieces of theatre in town.

Runs until 12th July 2014

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