Friday, 8 November 2019

REVIEW: Sydney and the Old Girl at the Park Theatre

Eugene O'Hare's first full length play, The Weatherman ran at the Park 200 in August and was a dark depressing insight into an unpleasant seedy subculture of Britain set in the dilapidated, barely habitable bed sit in a block of flats in London of Archie and Beezer played by Mark Hadfield. 

His second play Sydney and the old Girl follows on this month and is an equally uncomfortable and difficult watch filled with hatred and bile. Yet in the hands of a brilliant cast of three performers it becomes a compelling and provocative drama. 

O'Hare sets this one in the house of Nell, an elderly potty mouthed wheelchair bound old lady. She has not left the house since the death of her young son Bernie in a care home some thirty-five years before. Her other son Sydney is forced to move in when his own flat is unavailable and lives for his inheritance of the house and £60,000 of savings saying he “wants his reward for all the crap". They play a dangerous game of taunting and abusing each other as we begin to understand their past and the impact on both.

Sydney is a bigoted creepy homophobic alcoholic nervous wreck reacting to every passing flashing blue night in panic and anger. He is without friends and his only escape is to the John Peel pub with his red bag (we never find out what's in it) for a lonely pint. Mark Hadfield returns and brilliantly captures this deeply unpleasant character as he quivers and shakes in reaction to the noises and taunts. Into this tense relationship comes Vivien Parry as the Irish care worker whose visits help the old lady cope with her restricted mobility. She gets drawn into the mother and son's games with shocking consequences.

However, it is Miriam Margolyes as Nell that commands centre stage in her chair as every look and grimace conveys her grief and hatred as she tries to manipulate with emotional blackmail her two companions. It is extraordinary that we forget her normal bubbly irreverent personality from TV shows as she portrays this desperately sad woman. As she says, "she is suffering the longest post-natal depression known to man". 

Director Philip Bremen build the tension between the three characters in every scene, so the conflict and deceit feel real and the bleak glimpse into their world claws its way into your mind. It's exhausting and harrowing to watch, let alone perform nightly.

It is a dark depressing play with occasional moments of feminist humour like
when Marion dismisses men with " I could not be bothered fumbling about with more than one of them" and Nell says of Marion "takes a woman to get things done". It casts a shadow over the challenge of care for the elderly and for those with disability and raises concerns over what those who go behind the curtains of home care may face.

You must applaud the three actors’ performances which are intense and real and no doubt these scenes are acted out in many old family homes around the country, but the deeply unpleasant language and attitudes means you can't really enjoy the experience.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Circle, Row A | Price of Ticket: £18.50
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