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24:7 Theatre Festival, Manchester 2011 - Thursday

Published by: Caroline May on 29th Jul 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May

Keep It Simple – Midland Hotel

The Keep It Simple team all hail from the Newcastle area if their CVs are anything to judge by. And yet Dick Curran’s play seems to have more in common with a town approximately 100 miles south of the Tyne Bridge – Scarborough.

Alan Ayckbourn would have been proud of this classic English comedy of manners set at a family wedding. Sabena and Gawain are aiming for a relaxed and low-key affair in a calming Lakeland setting, but Sabina’s uptight mum Kate and insecure step-dad Doug are far from laid back at the prospect of Kate’s bohemian ex-husband Ted attending the nuptials.

There were times when I almost thought I was at the late lamented Library Theatre watching one of their Ayckbourn summer specials: even the flower-covered trellis and cast-iron garden furniture were like a flash-back to the set of Relatively Speaking in 2009. The cast deliver their lines with inimitable Ayckbourn-esque inflections, clearly aided by the very particular writing style of author Dick Curran.

The older actors are especially successful with their 360o comic characterisations. John Sumner playing unimaginative chiropodist Doug, a man born to wear a checked shirt and beige slacks, peers over his specs in outrage and bemusement as his world reels. Shelley O’Brien as frazzled agony aunt Kate definitely needs a good dose of her own advice, but is essentially motherly and sympathetic. And Dennis Jobling as the feckless poet Ted, all trendy jeans, black satin shirt and well-groomed beard, is irrepressible. I suppose it’s inevitable that a poet should get all the best lines, but he has a run of stingers in the second act which steal the show.

Despite the Lake District setting there is something unutterably Home Counties about the entire enterprise. With one exception there’s no sign of a regional accent, the characters are all blamelessly middle-class, and the dramatic situation is one of social niceties rather than social upheaval. In short, all the ingredients for an evening of pure entertainment.

No Place Like Home - New Century House

Writer Rebekah Harrison deals with the painful and difficult subject of domestic abuse in this drama set in a women’s refuge. The writing feels really truthful as the characters deal with their disturbing pasts, the frustration of sharing space with complete strangers, the never-ending bureaucracy of the social services system, and the dreary mundanity of everyday existence.

Director Janys Chambers breaks away from the naturalistic nature of the script by deploying the cast of eight act as a chorus at the beginning of each scene, and talented young Trystan Chambers expresses his character’s inner turmoil via sequences of dance and movement.

No Place Like Home is not easy to watch, but the issues it addresses are very important.

www.247theatrefestival.co.uk has all the show information including video trailers

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