Familiarity breeds contempt and seeing the whole of this household glued to their phones is exasperating to say the least. They appear to be trapped in the mobile world, excuse the dichotomy, with every aspect covered: news flashes; online buying and selling; videos, posts, messages. It feels as if there’s more ping than dialogue sometimes.
Set in a slightly shabby, old-fashioned house in Birkenhead; a bit parochial but like everywhere else, places are closing down, there’s a gig economy and all sorts going on in schools, the increasing vice of violence, and the influence of the would be virtuous. We learn all this through the Greek Chorus of Doreen’s two daughters, didactic Sarah in particular. The division between the cosy interior and the scary outside world (and let’s face it, has it ever been scarier?) is made ominously apparent by the staging because of the water surrounding the house, like a moat, which brings reality, the barriers, even more into question.
The three generations range from widow Doreen, via Carmel and Sarah, to the former’s teenage daughter Megyn. Everything at first seems perfectly mundane, as they settle down to a chippy supper and chatting about their day. At one point, Sarah insists they leave their phones alone, but at another, Carmel unplugs the modem in an effort to get Megyn to talk, yet Sarah continues using hers… An extremely slow start, it livens up once Megyn gets more involved: Sarah is trying to persuade her to come to the school where she teaches for some work experience. Then everybody starts discussing the environment, the terrible things that are happening, and the girl becomes more and more distressed. She flees to the bedroom. And there she stays.
Doreen does her best to look after her, but is not allowed in; they communicate, yes, by text. Sarah does her best to reason with her – Carmel continues being her brittle, bitter self. She seems always to be virtually bullying Megyn into doing what she’s told. Ironically, much of the humour comes from Carmel’s sourly witty comments, though also Doreen’s unconsciously comical observations, and even Sarah’s earnest remarks: you always have to do the right thing, and she has her heroes, parroting her headmistress’s views and constantly raving about her new boyfriend. Then she ends up completely disillusioned with the former, and you’ll never guess what happens with the latter. Oh, you have.
After Megyn finally emerges from her grandmother’s bedroom, an extremely powerful scene (in silence, echoing the opening) has Emma Harrison on her own, brilliantly conveying her struggle, the dread and conflicting feelings; so much easier sometimes to control your life online. And this follows a moving conversation with her aunt, when Sarah (Jodie McNee) confides her own fears. Unfortunately, the long awaited reconciliation between mother and daughter is too swiftly resolved. Michelle Butterly has amazingly won our sympathy because she manages to stay spirited despite having a really hard time with her life, work and marriage. However, her treatment of Megyn is unduly harsh, especially the things she says to her.
As for Doreen, the amazing (and glamorous) Sue Jenkins makes a wonderful job of a woman who is both dotty and astute, and so devoted to her family, she put up with a tyrannical husband, and made sure her girls never knew what he was really like. And when she gets herself all dolled up to go striding into the sunset, even though we can’t be sure how that will pan out, you could sense the whole audience wanted to cheer her on her way.
Michael Wynne certainly has the knack of creating something extraordinary out of what, on the surface, appears to be very ordinary. And reminds us that what we were comfortably used to once upon a time as everyday life cannot always be guaranteed.
Reviewer: Carole Baldock
Reviewed: 7th September 2023
North West End UK Rating: