Sydney & The Old Girl
Reviewed – 5th November 2019
“a powerful, funny and uncomfortable watch”
Sydney & the Old Girl is one of two debut full-length plays by Irish playwright Eugene O’Hare. Directed by Phillip Breen, the play spotlights the miserable lives of the elderly Nell Stock (Miriam Margoyles) and her son Sydney (Mark Hadfield). Sydney, who has moved back into the family home temporarily, blames his mother for the death of his younger brother Bernie and Nell admits bluntly that her son “creeps her out”. Nell’s cheery Irish carer Marion Fee (Vivien Parry) is caught in the middle of the pair, acting as a trump card for Nell to laud over her son and an object of romantic obsession for Sydney. The trio are all making careful steps towards coming out on top whether that financially, morally or purely to spite one another.
Nell and Sydney are both unreliable narrators and offer a consistently conflicting series of events. There initially appears to be nothing more than blind hatred between them but there are suggestions of something more complex: a dysfunctional co-dependency brought about through grief. The pair insulting one another does unfortunately often take precedence over exploring their relationship any deeper.
Margoyles shines throughout the performance. The audience will quickly forget that it is the famous thespian before them and be wholeheartedly convinced that she is in fact Nell. For example, Nell, confined to a wheelchair for most of the play, walks gingerly at the end of the performance. This elicited gasps from the audience who presumably forgot that Margoyles herself can walk just fine.
Hadfield is perfectly odd for the role of Sydney and he exudes an aura of tragic loneliness. He is decidedly unpleasant but, as with his relationship with Nell, it would be good if he had some more tender moments. There is a slither of sympathy for Nell implanted in the audience, but Sydney is not so complexly presented. As a plot point, it is a shame to see the all too familiar trope of a man fixating on a woman who he feels that he can open up to emotionally. Though this undoubtedly contributes to Sydney’s creepiness, it is thoroughly predictable.
Parry is a natural on stage and her first appearance bustling into Nell’s house is a particularly strong scene. Her development in the second half is unexpected which is a credit to Parry’s non-assuming nature. Marion also provides a much-needed break from the tension between warring mother and son.
The set (Max Jones and Ruth Hall) is wonderfully intimate creating a sense that the audience is privy to these awkward family exchanges. The audience looks onto a dated living room with a floral carpet and dark panelled walls with a front door on the right-hand side. An alcohol cabinet, a broken television set, an armchair and a small dining table fill the space. A small kitchen occupies the back left of the stage and a hallway leads off to the rest of the house. The space is used well, and the cast move around it confidently.
The lighting (Tina Mac Hugh) is excellent. The cold light of the early morning floods the set and the stage darkens gradually as night approaches. The flashing sirens of ambulances are also mimicked convincingly. There is a rather gratuitous projection show at the production’s end that would have perhaps worked better as a means of breaking up the performance mid-way rather than stand out so unnaturally at its finale.
Sydney & the Old Girl is a powerful, funny and uncomfortable watch. The acting is sublime, but a more nuanced exploration of the play’s characters and their relationships would be gladly welcomed.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Pete Le May
Sydney & The Old Girl
Park Theatre until 30th November
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: