While the play has its flaws – the hackneyed use of phone calls and letters to reveal off-stage action, the stereotypical use of parental abuse to explain the sexual hang-ups of a later generation – it also has moments of genuine humour and pathos, coupled with four excellently created characters.
Stephanie Cole as Maud – dotty matriarch with a bulk-buying fetish for unnecessary tampons and packet soup for the freezer – lives in her past affairs with US servicemen, believes she is infested with mites and talks to the television. She lives in the family home with Maurice (Allan Corduner) – New Orleans jazz fan and vintage pornography dealer who talks to his cat.
The death of Maud’s husband brings the other two children home. Queenie (Miranda Foster) – Maurice’s cousin – escaped to America decades before, but is scarred by her past and seeks closure with the ghosts of her past. Hedley (Simon Shepherd), the oldest sibling, is a Labour MP who wants mother out of the house which he can then sell for redevelopment.
Splendid performances all round create the overwhelming impression that the UK in the Thatcher era was torn between the sentimentality of the past and the market driven capitalism of the near future. Maurice openly prefers the past, while Maud, beneath her thin veneer of being ‘with-it’ (hypermarkets and the ‘michael-wave’ oven), clearly resides in her memories.
Tensions rise as the two siblings who left – but didn’t escape – try to convince Maud to move to a London flat and Maurice to visit America. The play’s message is clearly communicated by Stephen Unwin’s sensitive direction, while the original designer John Gunter provides a bridge to the original production, echoed by the casting of Miranda Foster whose father (Barry Foster) played in the original production.
The production entertains and challenges, with the emphasis on the former. Nichols, with his ear for conversational language and clear love for his home town of Bristol, has created a piece of period theatre that works well in the current era, where we must all decide (to paraphrase Maurice) whether we wish to escape, or to remain safely ensconced behind the bars of our cages to throw the occasional turd at passers by!