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Me and My Friend

Thursday, 11 March, 2010

Care in the Community

Pentameters Theatre, 9 Mar – 27 Mar, 8.00pm (2hr 20min with 15 min interval)

This production is a revival of Gillian Plowman’s award-winning script first produced in 1988.

It concerns two men and two women, housed in down-at-heel flats in the same block. Both men and both women have been damaged by various aspects of living and relationships. Now, leaning heavily on their respective flatmates, they are struggling to repair their lives and to live as normally as they possibly can.

It is an unequal battle however, and their powers to improve their circumstances are pitifully inadequate in terms of the obstacles they need to overcome.

The drama evolves in three acts; the first takes place in the men’s flat, the second in the women’s and the third back in the men’s flat, where all the characters gather for a rather strange party.

Along the way, each of the characters’ personal stories emerge, some in casual conversation, some in flashbacks, signalled  by a wash of blue light.

There is the workaholic Bunny who, desperate to improve himself, in the end snaps under the pressure of his own commitment and a physically demanding wife. He shares his flat with the confused Oz, the relationship-shy ex-postman who ends up throwing his letters in the river, but who is still obsessed with parcels.

Upstairs, there is Robin, whose marriage and her own mental health has collapsed under the strain of a demanding son and an indifferent husband, and Julia, whose sexual exploits have left her with a fear of being touched, while all the time wanting comfort and love.

All these characters are played with a lot of commitment and skill, bringing into sharp focus the key strength of Gillian Plowman’s script, which is simply the sympathy that it generates.

The nature of her characters’ pathetic and ineffectual struggles for normality – while getting precious little in terms of help, (even to understand what normality might be) – is starkly and continuously illuminated. Along the way, the script allows more bright moments of comedy than perhaps any description of the play’s subject might suggest.

The play maintains a good pace thanks to Alan Hescott’s direction, and while it is a long production (2 hours and 20 minutes), it doesn’t actually seem like that.

How much this is a play rooted in Mrs Thatcher’s Britain, when the pendulum was swinging sharply away from mutual reliance, towards a society in which citizens were expected to help themselves, is open to question, but it still has a meaningful resonance, even after the real era of ‘care in the community.’

How “accurate” a picture it provides as a portrayal of psychological inadequacy is another unanswerable question. Sometimes it seemed a little cosy, even though at others it was painfully merciless in its portrayal.

What is always nigglingly worrying though, and is at the heart of the tensions in this play, must be the proximity of mental crisis for us all, (no matter how ‘normal’ we think ourselves to be) and the nature of any “help” that we might receive thereafter.

Cast: Polly Banwell – Julia: Simon Burbage – Oz; Jason Carter – Bunny; Antonia Oliver – Robin

Writer – Gillian Plowman; Director – Alan Hescott; Producer – Ian Redford; Production photographer – David Bailie; Stage manager – Rozie Jackson; ASM – Anna Lenes; Lighting assistant – Jack Wait

(c) Michael Spring 2010

Reviewed 11 Mar

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