Theatre review: My Girl 2 at the Old Red Lion

Lt-Rt: Alexander Neal (Sam) and Emily Plumtree (Anita), My Girl 2 by Barrie Keeffe, Directed by Paul

Lt-Rt: Alexander Neal (Sam) and Emily Plumtree (Anita), My Girl 2 by Barrie Keeffe, Directed by Paul Tomlinson, The Old Red Lion Theatre, Tues 24 June – Sat 12 July 2014, Box office: 0844 412 4307, - Credit: Archant

This long-established pub venue prides itself, quite rightly, on presenting the best in new and emerging theatrical talent. However, the The Dilated Theatre Company’s current production in The Old Red Lion comes across as somewhat dated.

Is this because it is a reworking by Barrie Keefe of a successful piece he wrote in 1989? The play sits uneasily between two quite different eras of economic recession: 1989 and 2014. The first hal, in particular, is crammed with information about both periods of austerity, with the result that the characters seem to keep informing each other of facts, opinions, circumstances. Less information and more sub-text would make for better dialogue and a more convincing relationship between social worker Sam and his wife Anita, pregnant with their second child.

Times are hard for those who work in the public sector, and particularly for Sam and Anita, who live on a rough London council estate. The cannot pay their bills, the flat is cold and too small, the heating and hot water fail to function and the baby cries constantly. They have no prospect of ever being able to afford to buy a home of their own.

Sam, played with wit and charm by Alexander Neal, has made the situation worse by getting into inextricable debt with loan companies. To crown all, he seems to be getting romantically involved with one of the most needy of his clients. Anita, who has to deal with the domestic situation on a day-to-day basis, wants out of the grim and dangerous council estate and into the leafy suburbs. This would, inevitably, mean that Sam would have to give up the job to which he is dedicated and cease to work with clients who desperately need his help.

Emily Plumtree, as Anita, gives a convincing and passionate performance of a woman in a desperate situation. Her solution is for Sam to take a well-paid job in the private sector and away from London. She is stronger and more practical than Sam and, finally, when their relationship takes a turn for the better after the birth of their second child, gets her way. Political and personal ideals have to be sacrificed when there is “a pram in the hall.” However, it is strongly suggested that, long-term, their decision will be disastrous.

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Paul Tomlinson’s production is fast-paced and witty, though the very serious moral and political issues that underlie this love story are not glossed over. The set, designed by Jacqueline Gunn, is suitably bleak and depressing. But it lacks the dirt and muddle of genuine baby-squalor - which is perhaps why I was never convinced that there was a baby crying in the adjoining bedroom. Altogether, though, the play provides an entertaining and thought-provoking evening.

Rating: Three stars

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