Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Letting in Air at the Old Red Lion


Amy likes words. Words like 'evanescent' and 'wondrous.' She likes the shape of them, the sound of them; she likes to know their proper use.

The sixteen year old meets Frank, an aging widower, outside a theatre. He has been to see a play and she pretends she has too, though he soon realises she’s lying. Still he allows her to share his taxi home and assumes that will be the end of things. But Amy is tenacious and she can’t be shaken so easily; she likes Frank, his school teacher ways and his manner of speech, she feels safe in his company, a rarity in her life. She sticks to Frank like gum to his shoe.

The presence of this young, voluble girl in Frank’s life does not go down well with his son, Adam. His mother has only just died and he has moved back to Manchester, with his girlfriend Olivia in tow, to be nearer to his taciturn dad – and now he finds this gangly, young child-woman in his father’s house, always there, hanging around. He resents her presence and fears there is something seedy in their unlikely friendship.

Having set up this complex web of relationships, playwright Becky Prestwich detonates an explosive device in the midst of things and watches the debris fly. Frank, having been driven to lose his temper by Amy’s constant jabber, lets slip a secret, a secret he and his wife held together, something he has never told anyone – especially not his son.

Amy can’t bear the burden of carrying this knowledge and she tells Olivia, who in turn feels compelled to tell Adam, a man already bristling with resentment and confusion before this new revelation tips him deeper into darkness.

Prestwich has constructed a taut, intriguing play that initially seems to balance its off-beat sense of humour with some much blacker undercurrents; it’s only afterwards, on taking a few steps back from the canvas, that the cracks become apparent. Most obviously the characters’ willingness to let this girl, however benign her intentions, infiltrate their lives so rapidly stretches credibility

The cast do a great deal to counteract the holes in plausibility. Rebecca Elliot successfully negotiates the potentially clich├ęd and difficult role of Amy, the damaged young girl who looks at the world askew, and brings a fresh and unexpected quality to the part. Edmund Kente gives a subtle, layered performance as Frank, a gentle and intelligent man who does not easily lose control of his emotions. It’s apparent that he feels he lost his wife some time before she died and though he clearly cares for his son and wants to do right by him, he is uncertain how to connect with him – to say what needs to be said – and is sorely aware that he has made mistakes in the past. Tessa Mabbitt is warm and personable as Olivia, Adam’s girlfriend, a character who is unfairly and abruptly dispatched when she has served her purpose.

Adam Quayle’s direction ensures the pace doesn’t flag though the shifts between scenes are a little jerky at times. He handles the moments of conflict and tension well, even when the writing doesn’t quite ring true. Prestwich has an original voice as a writer, quirky and questing, but she seems over-stretched here and can’t quite prevent the intriguing scenario that she has created from tumbling over into melodrama

Reviewed for musicOMH

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