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Climax of Triumph: Silver Lining

9 February 2017

 

 

Silver Lining

by Sandi Toksvig

Co-Production by RTK and English Touring Theatre

at The Rose Theatre, Kingston until 11th February

Review by Mark Aspen

Global warming affects us all, we are told. So when rising sea-levels suddenly hit with a vengeance you should be prepared. But if you are in your eighties, in a care home and very much on the wrong side of the Thames Barrier, what do you do? Of course, simple, you build a boat, a veritable ark made of curtain tie-backs and water cooler refills.

This unlikely (we hope) scenario is the basis on Sandi Toksvig’s hilarious new comedy, Silver Lining , which had its world premiere at The Rose Theatre this week. A small group of elderly ladies are marooned by floods in the Silver Retirement Home in Gravesend.   At first they await rescue, but when it seems that they are abandoned by the world, these resilient and redoubtable pensioners find their own salvation, as their spirits become more and more …well … buoyant.

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Photographs by Mark Douet

The scene is a day-room of the Home, of faded grandeur and with windows looking out on an increasingly grey world.   The opening music is Sailing By, the tune that, after the weather forecast, closes each day on Radio Four (very much home to Sandi Toksvig). These physical metaphors were part of a clever lighting and sound design by Mark Doubleday and Mic Pool, which animated Michael Taylor’s set design and brought the tempest and the flood of “Storm Vera” right into the theatre. Projected torrents of rain and storm-clouds were rent by lightning and thunder that, like the voice of God, commented on the hapless ladies utterances.

Trendy techno-savvy, ex pub landlady, Gloria Bernhardt, tries to keep up with the times, witness her floral cat-suit and pink sneakers. She has spent breakfast time trying to contact Nathan, her nephew, but can’t get a signal (even to send a selfie). Played with wiry gleeful energy by Sheila Reid, this eighty-six year’s old auntie from ‘ackney would still, in her own words, “like one last shag”! As you see, Gloria doesn’t mince her words, but alas she, like her fellow inmates, “doesn’t even sleep with her teeth”.

We first see the fastidious fuddy-duddy Maureen Cookson entering backwards spraying air freshener. She is the youngest of the ladies but has joint problems and is afraid of the dark, although her stash of hurricane-lamps comes in useful when the electricity supply succumbs to the rising flood. Rachel Davies studied portrayal of Maureen as meticulous and mousey (although she later really comes into her own) was delightful. Maureen’s items for rescuing from the flood include her “Votes for Women” placard (in the village play she once had the part of Emmeline Parkhurst, who clearly a role model) and her goldfish, although the others point out that the creature is in no danger from water. Underneath, what Maureen really wants to escape from is the humdrum.

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Maggie McCarthy as May.

The sisters, May Trickett and June Partridge live in a state of continual irritation with each other. Well educated and from a middle class background, their lives had taken quite different courses until they had been, reluctantly, reunited in the Silver Retirement Home.

May, played with positive gusto by Maggie McCarthy, is a sensible pragmatist, with a ready wit that is incisive and sardonic. (One felt that this character chimes autobiographically with the playwright.) An ex-BBC executive, frustratingly she now finds herself a wheelchair-bound diabetic. Her sister June is pious and somewhat priggish. She is the widow of a local solicitor and rather resents her erstwhile protected life, knitting cardigans for babies in Africa. She secretly craves adventure. Joanna Monro, in this role, gave a well-nuanced characterisation of a spirit trying to break the bounds but not daring to try.

Then in bounces Hope Daley, a young and ebullient trainee temping by the hour and not quite enjoying the experience of organising their evacuation. Keziah Joseph, in a debut professional performance as Hope, gave a sparky techno-colour performance that really zinged. Everyone thinks Hope comes from the Caribbean. She doesn’t; so her story is that she is from Cheltenham. She isn’t: she is from Croydon, but “I don’t tell anybody, ‘cos I don’t want the sympathy”. But Hope brings hope, and they set about gathering their things.

Hope has been told that there are five ladies to evacuate, not four. They can only think she means Edna, who has just died. When Hope searches the bedrooms, she finds another inmate, whose existence was unknown to the others. She is at first mute and they do not know her name. They check for a name tag in her clothes and can only find “St Michael”.

St Michael is a gem of a part and Amanda Walker savoured the role, extracting a kindness from the humour of the part. St Michael seems totally gaga, and when she eventually speaks it is to quote advertisement jingles. (Shades of the very much darker Equus here.)

She has a box on her knees and when they open it, they find, much to their amusement of horror or both, that it is full of dildos!

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Amanda Walker as St Michael

If there is a moral in Silver Lining, it is that everyone has a worth and everyone has strengths. For when all seems lost and clearly no help will come, their escape gives them a common goal and a purpose in life, plus something they all secretly hanker after: adventure.

May remembers how to make a crystal-set wireless, and from a coat-hanger, a pencil and some copper wire scavenged from a, now redundant, fan, she build a radio that picks up the BBC. Zeb Soames (the real one) reads the news: everyone is believed to have been evacuated. This is the turning point: they are galvanised into action.

Meanwhile, Maureen has seen off a would-be looter, Jed, played with appropriately nasty furtiveness by Theo Toksvig-Stewart, in another debut professional performance. To everybody’s utter surprise, then delight, Maureen pulls out her hitherto forgotten skills in martial arts: a kick in the goolies, a swift rabbit punch, and a judo move and he is down the stairwell with a huge splash into the rapidly rising flood. (Rachel Davis acted this with worryingly accurate skill!)

St Michael announces that she is a welder, but amazingly she certainly does seem to know a lot about naval architecture and from the depths of her dementia she plucks the ability to work out buoyancy calculations to design their raft. June uses her diving expertise to strip off (captured on the mobile phone) and plunge down to the flooded kitchen stores to collect the large water cooler bottles. Soon they have built their own ark to escape the flood. Sandi Toksvig explains, “It’s a bit like The Great Escape, but without the motorcycles”.

All this activity does not however proceed fully smoothly. Tensions are raised when a chance find in Maureen’s handbag uncovers that she is a kleptomaniac. They accuse her of hypocrisy, but indeed we can see that this is her way of having a secret adventure and it was the way that she had hit out against her late husband’s ultra-respectability. What they fail to see however that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. However this revelation triggers reconciliation in a number of ways.

Then there follows a series of back-flashes of reflective introspection. These moving moments of further revelations into their respective pasts made a fine showcase for the great skills of the cast to hold and grip the audience. May reveals her bitter sorrow that she was excluded from the funeral of her Peggy, her same-sex lover, with whom she had happily lived for forty-six years. Gloria tells of the passionate love affair that she had had with Riccardo, a Trafalgar Square pavement artist, who on discovering she was pregnant, abandoned her, as he had a wife in Italy.  Her grief at the subsequent loss of her baby was palpable. In contrast, Maureen states baldly, “I killed my husband”, but then goes on to explain that when he had a heart attack she did not summon help, as he had become burdensome to her.

The great pathos of this finely acted moments of regret did however show up a slight weakness in the structure of the play. The first half was largely a series of very funny one liners, very witty but lacking fluency, whereas the pathos came all in one chunk. It may have been better to have integrated the pathos more into the earlier part of the action, where it could have been a powerful foil to the very clever humour.

The cast formed a smooth ensemble, balancing each other with precision. However, one niggle, now regrettably quite common, is that when actors have become used to screen acting, they drop their projection when back on stage. It often made words difficult to hear at the back of the auditorium. Nevertheless, the acting was superb, with caesium-clock accuracy in the comic timing and brilliant characterisation.

Silver Lining is a very entertaining play, with broad laughter throughout, witty and accurately observed. Director, Rebecca Gatward, has created a great piece of theatre, insightful and cleverly crafted.

The climax is a moment of triumph, all five ladies together with Hope (literally and figuratively) aboard the makeshift raft, like the ending of Euripides’ Women of Troy, at the point of being launched, but not into slavery, but into freedom. The theatre rocked as the surge wave took the raft: a climax of triumph!

Mark Aspen

February 2017

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From → Drama, Reviews

One Comment
  1. celiabard permalink

    After reading this well written and informative review the next thing I did was to look at the Rose Theatre website to see for how long this production will be running. Thank you.

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