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Review of Valued Friends at Rose Theatre Kingston

Natalie Casey, Sam Frenchum, Michael Marcus & Catrin Stewart - Valued Friends - Pamela Raith Photography.
Natalie Casey, Sam Frenchum, Michael Marcus & Catrin Stewart – Valued Friends. Pamela Raith Photography.

Valued Friends is a highly enjoyable yet thought provoking comedy by Stephen Jeffreys, receiving its first revival since the original production in 1989, when it won the Evening Standard ‘Most Promising Playwright’ award.

It is set in a large basement flat in 1989 Earl’s Court where four friends have been housemates for more than ten years. The play look at how they individually and as ‘valued friends’ deal with being offered a substantial fee to vacate their home.

The play is, perhaps, ground breaking, in that it provides two challenging, strongly written roles for women.

Sherry is a hapless, quirky, unsuccessful, stand-up comedian. This is played with a great deal of humour – we are never quite sure whether she is really as ‘slow’ a she appears to be, especially as she is given the occasional very perceptive comment, usually made at the wrong time! Natalie Casey is superb in this role, especially physically, extracting all the humour, energy and pathos that is possible: we empathise with her more than anyone else!

Marion is a straight-talking realist, making the most of the ‘Thatcher’ era. Her role develops gradually throughout the play as she becomes more sure of what she wants, or thinks she does. Catrin Stewart makes the most of the opportunities the playwright offers, ensuring that this is a fully rounded and believable portrayal.

By contrast, the two male friends are not as strongly written. Paul is a keen music journalist, portrayed by Sam Frenchum with a keen eye for detail. Howard is an earnest academic writing a book that no one wishes to publish about the corruption of capitalism. As acted by Michael Marcus he has just the right air of never quite being on the same planet as his other friends.

The property developer, Scott, is written by the playwright as a stereotype of what we expect – his only interest is making money. Ralph Davis not only looks the part, he has the ‘stress’ that goes with it!

Likewise Nicholas Tennant as Stewart, your typical builder, who is given some of the best comic lines, which the actor takes full advantage of, often receiving deserved applause on his exits!

It must be very difficult to convey the confines of a basement flat on the vast Rose stage, but designer Michael Taylor succeeds, mainly by confining the action to a square revolve, even if this involves long entrances/exits which are inclined to slow the action down. Lighting (Nic Farman)is evocative, aiding the creation of atmosphere, yet always ensuring that actors’ faces are lit. Costumes (Madeleine Girling) are redolent of the period, especially those for Marion and Sherry – they shout out ‘1980s’ as does the furniture, with two wonderful sofas, especially that for Act Two! (Just right for spilling red wine on!)

The director, Michael Fentiman, clearly loves this play and has directed it with pace, style and imagination so that the occasional weaknesses in its structure are barely apparent. Especially effective are the moments, usually near the ends of scenes, when two actors sit right at the front of the stage, taking us, the audience, into their confidence.

All in all, a most enjoyable 140 minutes, well worth the 25 minute train journey from Waterloo. Recommended to all who enjoy a strong, amusing play, and especially to those who remember Thatcher’s Britain – perhaps, unfortunately, NOT so different from today’s!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

It’s 1980 London and change is happening. The city is ablaze with social, political and cultural upheaval and, in a basement flat in Earls Court, four friends in their mid-thirties are scrabbling to keep their heads above water.

Housemates for more than 10 years, Sherry is a hapless, quirky comedian; Paul, a keen music journalist; Marion, a straight-talking realist; and Howard, an earnest academic writing about the corruption of capitalism. The friends are thrown unexpectedly into a battle of nerves when a young, confident property developer offers them a substantial fee to vacate their home in West London.

Spurred on by the revolutions of their time, they quickly realise that they hold all the cards in this real-life game of Monopoly and over the course of three years, they manipulate a burgeoning property market one cup of tea at a time.

Michael Fentiman directs Natalie Casey (Sherry), Ralph Davis (Scott), Sam Frenchum (Paul), Michael Marcus (Howard), Catrin Stewart (Marion) and Nicolas Tennant (Stewart).

Rose Theatre Kingston, The Original Theatre Company and Karl Sydow present
VALUED FRIENDS
Written by Stephen Jeffreys
Director: Michael Fentiman; Set Designer: Michael Taylor; Costume Designer: Madeleine Girling
Lighting Designer: Nic Farman; Sound Designer: Richard Hammarton; Casting Director: Serena Hill
20 September – 12 October
Press Night: Thursday 26 September, 7pm

Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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