It probably would not have taken two days for Maureen (Sarah-Jane Vincent) to find out about some important family news, even if she was no longer on speaking terms with brother Leslie (Steven Mann), if the critical incident had taken place in the age of social media. But, as the show’s programme points out, the “Web was still three years away” from the time in which the play is set. In London, The Phantom of the Opera had just opened; the play’s events take place in Oldham.
The audience is treated (or, given the amount of bitterness from both siblings towards one another, subjected) to two long monologues, the first longer than the second. Leslie seems to ramble at times, speaking thoughts out loud like a stream of consciousness rather than a heavily dramatic and impactful speech. Taking the scenic route to the main topic, the devil is very much in the detail here. A large number of characters are introduced, but few are memorable. The enjoyment of the play comes, therefore, in the observational comedy. It’s apparent, though, that Leslie leads an active retirement; filling each day with activity and meeting with friends.
The set is bare, apart from an armchair and some cards. The latter made a premature appearance at the performance I attended, an unescapable (simply because, as I say, there were no other props) but ultimately negligible observation. The production relies heavily on both the script and the imagination of the audience, who only knows, for instance, that there’s a knock on the door because it is informed accordingly – the play even dispenses with sound effects. It’s so refreshing for a show to have such trust and confidence in its actors to deliver.
With the spectacles, the armchair, and the punchlines, Leslie’s subtle storytelling brought Ronnie Corbett’s straight-to- camera armchair anecdotes to mind. The narrative sometimes moved very briskly indeed, which made it a slight struggle to keep up with everything going on. Better too fast than too slow though. The other person I thought of as these surprisingly compelling stories kept on coming was Peter Oakley (1927-2014), the so-called ‘Internet Grandad’, who posted a large number of videos on YouTube in his final years, drawing from his decades of life experience.
Particularly amusing, to me at least, was a digression about medication and being careful about what medicines are consumed. Leslie’s personal contentment came across as being grounded on looking at other people’s circumstances, interpreting them in his own way, and concluding that he can count his lucky stars that his own situation isn’t as bad as theirs. Ultimately, this isn’t so much sibling rivalry as sibling hatred – both him and her portray one another in the most negative terms.
Maureen’s monologue was shorter, or at least it felt shorter (admittedly, I wasn’t ‘watch-watching’, always a good thing when seeing a show), and more focused. This works well, distinguishing one sibling from the other as having different personalities and manners of speaking. Things do get a tad risqué, but never vulgar, and the language is kept sparklingly clean, a novelty these days in the theatre. Perceptions are presumed, which only results in unnecessary pain for everyone involved, and one comes away thinking that if only Leslie knew X and Maureen knew Y, they would at least think rather better of one another.
It’s not exactly intellectually stimulating, but that doesn’t stop this production from providing plenty of food for thought. One would like to think that our more liberal times would allow for a bit more communication than a generation ago. As the play remains relevant and relatable, that seems somewhat far-fetched. Familiarity breeds contempt in this gentle and passionate production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
In this moving, funny and astutely observed play, two monologues from two members of a family in a
small, closely-knit, North of England town tell a powerful story from two wildly different perspectives.
Leslie, who has lived with his mother all of his life, tells of the events leading up to her death, revealing
the extent of his loss and the bitterness towards his sister, Maureen. Feeling betrayed and reject by her
family, Maureen tells a different story of grief and isolation.
The two powerful voices remind us of the need for families to communicate, and for love to transcend
Canal Cafe Theatre
2 Delamere Terrace,
London, W2 6ND
28th-30th July 7pm
Running time: 1hr 10min
Producer: Alistair Lindsay
Director: Val Colins
Actors: Steven Mann & Sarah Jane Vincent
Production Manager/ Lighting Designer: Alistair Lindsay
PR Manager: Francesca Mepham
Marketing Designer: Trevor Reaveley
At Canal Cafe Theatre 28th-30th July 7pm, before heading to Edinburgh Fringe.