Tag Archives: Fergus O’Hare

The Good Life

★★

Cambridge Arts Theatre

The Good Life

Cambridge Arts Theatre | UK Tour

Reviewed – 9th November 2021

★★

 

“the sit-com format over two hours disappoints”

 

For anyone not in the know, The Good Life (by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey) was one of BBC TV’s most successful situation comedy programmes airing between 1975 and 1978 which elevated its four main actors to near national treasure status. How then are we to judge this new stage version (adapted and directed by Jeremy Sams), taking the characters as they are without censuring them for not being the faces and voices that we so loved? Well, needs must.

The curtain rises on the morning of Tom Good’s (Rufus Hound) fortieth birthday and his feeling that life is not all it could be. By the end of the day he has quit his job designing cereal box plastic toys and embarked on a mission with wife Barbara (Sally Tatum) to become self-sufficient, turning their suburban house and garden into a freeholding along with chickens, pigs and a marauding goat called Stephanie (a deliberately humorous animatronic puppet). Next door live their friends, haughty and houseproud Margo (Preeya Kalidas) and Tom’s now ex-boss Jerry Leadbetter (Dominic Rowan).

Sams explains in his programme note of the contemporary resonances there are to be heard in this story but the overwhelming feeling is of a period piece. The characters are not much developed beyond what we know already, the biggest laughs come from references to chicken Kiev and black forest gateau, and despite some additional storyline from Sams – including one scene involving the smoking of pot which is unlikely to have made it onto 1970s TV – the key episodes follow events from the TV series.

An ingenious set design (Michael Taylor) incorporates two revolving flats that rotate to reveal either the Good’s kitchen or the Leadbetter’s living room. 1970s furniture – sideboard, hostess trolley, electronic organ, serving hatch – provide the period feel. (A banner in the final scene places us specifically in 1977).

Four loosely-linked scenes ensue of the ups-and-downs of the Good’s new life, and how it affects their relationship with the Leadbetters but the sit-com format over two hours disappoints. When the main joke of one scene is that ‘the Pigman has nobbled the cake’ and the drama reaches its climax with an inebriated tango and a conga around the living room, it all feels just a little lame. An attempt for greater poignancy with a story involving Barbara’s attempts to save the life of a new-born piglet is too long and clumsily staged.

The energy of the ensemble cannot be faulted. There is some excellent quickfire repartee between Tom and Barbara, and Rufus Hound seems most comfortable in his role, but what is missing is any sparkle between the couple. We should see their shared enjoyment when they tease Margo – who does not understand why something is amusing – and the occasional innuendo should seem naughty but falls flat. Next door, Preeya Kalidas does her snooty best as Margo but we only see one side of her character and her propriety always slows the pace. Dominic Rowan does a fine job as Jerry placating his wife and toadying to his boss. Surprisingly, the star turn of the evening comes from Nigel Betts whose four cameo roles with different costumes, hair, and accents are much enjoyed.

There are laughs aplenty to be had in this amiable entertainment which evokes memories of comfy afternoons in front of the telly, a glass of Liebfraumilch in the hand, but, as Tom says right at the start, “is that it?”

 

 

Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Dan Tsantilis

 


The Good Life

Cambridge Arts Theatre until 13th November then UK Tour continues

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Copenhagen | ★★★★ | July 2021
Absurd Person Singular | ★★★ | September 2021
Tell me on a Sunday | ★★★ | September 2021
Dial M For Murder | ★★★ | October 2021

 

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Mother of Him

★★★★★

Park Theatre

Mother of Him

Mother of Him

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 24th September 2019

★★★★★

 

“Tracy-Ann Oberman is superb as Brenda, finding her way through a landscape of emotions in a devastatingly truthful arc”

 

Do you have to love your child, no matter what they have done? Can you? This is a play about what it means to be a mother, in particular, what it means to be the mother of a son who has done something terrible. Evan Placey has written a masterful and gripping examination of this question, set during the week leading up to the sentencing of Brenda’s son Matthew for the crime of rape. But Matthew is not the only son, he has an eight year old brother, Jason, and Brenda has to deal with his needs, her own distress, and a media siege outside her front door. Tracy-Ann Oberman is superb as Brenda, finding her way through a landscape of emotions in a devastatingly truthful arc, and bringing in delightful and unexpected humour at times. It’s a performance that had my friend and I in tears. We are both mothers of sons, and were both impressed that a young man could write such a complex, real woman with understanding, humanity and a lightness of touch. Because, while this is a play that challenges us to think and question, while it is a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, it is never heavy, never forced.

The action is set in 1998, before social media, so the press and television were absolutely in control of the narrative in any situation. Every time Brenda or Jason leave the house they pounce. This is only shown by off stage sound and lighting, a successful design decision that makes the house seem more and more like a prison as the story progresses. Matthew, played by Scott Folan, is probably not anyone’s idea of a rapist. he is young, gangly and defensive. A normal teenager. Folan never reveals too much, leaving us questioning why this boy man could have done what he did. He is sweet with his young brother Jason, delightfully portrayed by Matt Goldberg, one of two boys who share the role. We get the feeling of a real family, a single mother trying to keep some normality for her younger son, not knowing how to deal with the older one. The boy who has become a stranger, a kind of monster.

Simon Hepworth plays family friend and lawyer Robert Rosenberg, trying to help with the court case and trying to keep Brenda on an even keel. His reliability and patience balancing Neil Sheffield’s unreliable Steve, the long absent father of the boys who shows up late in the play. Anjelica Serra completes the cast, playing Matthew’s girlfriend Jessica, and Tess, the cleaner. None of the cast put a foot wrong and, although it is Tracy-Ann Oberman’s Brenda who is at the centre of the drama, everyone deserves an accolade.

The sound design includes radio broadcasts, and is a valuable evocation of the time beautifully created by Fergus O’Hare. Ali Hunter’s lighting and Lee Newby’s costumes and flexible set create a believable world, a home that’s now both a prison and a refuge from the outside world. The whole thing is drawn together and directed by Max Lindsay with a lovely sense of place and family. It is a triumph.

 

Reviewed by Katre

Photography by Bronwen Sharp

 


Mother of Him

Park Theatre until 26th October

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Cry Havoc | ★★ | March 2019
The Life I Lead | ★★★ | March 2019
We’re Staying Right Here | ★★★★ | March 2019
Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough | ★★½ | April 2019
Intra Muros | | April 2019
Napoli, Brooklyn | ★★★★ | June 2019
Summer Rolls | ★★★½ | June 2019
The Time Of Our Lies | ★★★★ | August 2019
The Weatherman | ★★★ | August 2019
Black Chiffon | ★★★★ | September 2019

 

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