Stella Feehil’s new play wrapped up a seven-city tour in Oxford this weekend at the North Wall Arts Centre in Summertown.
The play explores the anatomy of the breakdown of political activist Hildy’s life – philandering husband, drug addicted son, alcoholic mother and senile father. As her frustration mounts, she increasingly dreams of violent acts towards her family. This is mirrored against the collapse of the global economy and the plunge into recession. There is too much credit that has been issued, too many demands put on the system and risk can no longer be predicted – a metaphor for Hildy’s life.
The dialogue is sharp and witty, equally insightful as it is funny, with Hildy’s father offering occasional moments of slapstick tinged with tragedy, such as urinating in the corner of his nursing home room. The content occasionally strays into political rants, and it is not always clear what (or if) Feehil is advocating – in one scene between two cleaners in the City and a banker they are holding hostage, one is left wondering whether the point was to make us more sympathetic to bankers. However, these are minor issues in an otherwise excellent piece.
The cast is superb, with Catherine Russell as Hildy; Nigel Cooke as Hildy’s philandering husband; Jamie Baughan as Jamie, her drug-addict son and Paula Wilcox as her mother. Wilcox (as Shirley) even serenades the audience with a few numbers as an ageing has-been pop-star. Thusitha Jayasundera and Mossie Smith are very funny as cleaners in the City, as is Giles Cooper as the banker they hold hostage.
The performance runs approximately 1h and 45 minutes with no interval, and the Oxford performance was followed by a discussion with the director and cast.
Kate Bottriell (Unverified), 09/11/09
Dreams of Violence by Stella Feehily
(Out of Joint and Soho Theatre)
Coming to North Wall Arts Centre, November 6th & 7th
(Previewed at Soho Theatre, London, 16th July) Writer Stella Feehily offers us wisdom and wit, in sparkling dialogue, spoken by some cracking uptown urban characters in a comedy that dramatises both the recession and family dysfunction. Disintegration resulting from the ageing process is put under the spotlight as Hildy’s parents, Shirley and Jack, cling to her emotionally. Paula Wilcox dazzles as Shirley, the coked up has been singer, who crumbles whilst singing along to video footage of her earlier TV performances. Ciaran McIntyre as Jack presents some brilliant hard edge Irish humour whilst letting the vulnerability of a tough ex-roadie now in a nursing home flicker through, requesting, ‘Please don’t hit an old man’. Giles Cooper as his nurse delivering his line, ‘This is not what I went into the nursing profession for’ is worth the price of admission alone.
Through her political organisation ‘Small Change’ Hildy (Catherine Russell) is committed to rolling out a living wage for workers. To this end office cleaners Annie and Bea are converted to Hildy’s cause and attend her rousing rally, holding placards aloft. Mossie Smith and Thusitha Jayasundera show the realities of a life spent holding down a minimum wage job with humour, integrity and insight. The seventies era the play blissfully flashes back to has been painstakingly well observed with references to Peters and Lee through to Black Sabbath painting an effortless sense of place under Max Stafford-Clark’s superbly sharp direction.
All the same, this is firmly a contemporary comedy as Hildy’s son Jamie (Jamie Baughan) blames mum for the fact he is recovering under a methadone programme and estranged husband Ben (Nigel Cooke) pops Viagra to satisfy his sex drive with or without his wife being present. No wonder Hildy has troubl sleeping but perhaps the final climactic scene goes a bit further to explaining the dreams more directly. And if you miss it, hey shame on you if you can’t dance too!
Lita Doolan (DI Reviewer), 17/07/09
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