Tuesday, November 29

Act Your Age New Writing Festival – Hope Mill Theatre

In a youth obsessed culture such as ours it was nice to see some plays written for actors over forty.

This new writing festival, we were told, had been in the planning for 18 months and now, thankfully, it was here. It was the first of three evenings of new short plays that will be taking place at the Hope Mill Theatre over the next few weeks.

The first play was Paper Crown by Laura Harper. It was partly about how we imagine the lives of others to be better than our own. This two-hander was an intriguing take on the familiar trope of the errant husband and the vengeful wife. Hell hath no fury…

At first, we think we are watching a play about class. A working-class couple are in their pyjamas getting ready for bed. His are stained by ketchup, hers are cheap and tasteless.

She idolises the woman next door, Sally, who she thinks is so much more sophisticated and successful and then she is and she imagines what her life must be like. These posher neighbours, along with their little boy Charlie, seem to be perfect.

Then suddenly we realise they are the posh neighbours, and they are role playing, pretending to be the less well-off neighbours, as a way of rescuing their marriage, due to the husband Daniel’s affair with the women next-door. This is Sally’s way of getting back at her husband. This clever shift in perspective opened up a whole new way of looking at these characters.

Caroline Chesworth as Sally slipped easily between the working-class neighbour and the elegant Sally. Allan Nicol as Daniel did well with a character who was never going to win the argument.

The second play, Stairlift by Brigid Amos, dealt with the pressures of old age and the problems faced by middle-aged children who have to look after their elderly parents.

A cantankerous mother, used to life in leafy Chester, is forced to live with her daughter Ellen in down-at-heel Crumpsell. She is unhappy about this, particularly as her other, more successful daughter, Sally, lives in Alderley Edge.

Ellen puts up with her mother’s constant complaints, her criticism of her house, neighbourhood, and life. She also must put up with the praise her mother gives to Sally, who along with her husband, earns a lot of money and has provided her with grandchildren, yet clearly does not want the responsibility.

Lynne Whitaker was suitably cranky as the stubborn mother. Kim Morris portrayed well the stresses and strains faced by the put-upon daughter. The play itself lacked structure and whilst it was moving at the end the twist came as no surprise.

The final play, The Rise of Jessie Bates by Paul Antokolsky, was performed as a rehearsed reading and was the best play of the night.

It was a period romp set in a world of smuggling. Jessie and her husband Jack Bates live in a cave. It is habitable and hidden behind a cupboard in their home is a secret room where they can stash nefarious goods and keep them from the prying eyes of the authorities.

It was a well written, tightly plotted, farce and it would have been nice to see it acted out without scripts.

Jo Dakin as Jessie was the standout performer on the night. Her timing was excellent, and she imbued the part with such energy and verve. It was an effervescent performance, full of expression and fantastic facial expressions.

The festival continues on the 30th of August and the 6th of September. https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/act-your-age

Reviewer: Adam Williams

Reviewed: 23rd October 2021