SYDNEY & THE OLD GIRL: Park200 Theatre, Finsbury Park, London
Miriam Margolyes (Nell Stock) and Mark Hadfield (Sydney Stock): photo Pete Le May


Irish playwright Eugene O'Hare has previously played this venue with his first full length Black Comedy, 'The Weatherman' which received positive reviews as a study in character. Sydney & The Old Girl is his second premier at this venue and once again features Mark Hadfield, who took a lead in the previous production and has shown his stripes as an actor of great versatility. Alongside is veteran of stage and screen Miriam Margolyes and accomplished actor Vivien Parry.

It is always a joy to see Miriam Margolyes in performance and over the years I have been privileged to see her in many. Sure we know her for her recent TV forays but let's not forget this is an acclaimed actor, as well as a strongly opinionated and outspoken individual. For some she may be 'marmite' but in this performance she demonstrated the skills that have coloured and shaped her career these last 50 years and gained her the many awards she has deservedly earned. In this piece her presence fills the stage and when she is offstage, she is sorely missed. A veritable tour de force in her role of Nell Stock, Margolyes is convincing as a frustrated, malevolent but vulnerable old lady nearing the end of her sad, guilt-ridden life.

In truth this is a three hander with each actor working alongside the other to achieve the total effect. With a single stage set of the interior of Nell's East End home, which is sorely in need of repair (mirroring her own life) occasionally lit by the flashing blue lights of passing emergency vehicles, the dependence is on the performance which is achieved highly by this trio. Utterly believable in their roles, we are drawn into the awfulness of the existence of mother and son whose haunting past has created the monster their lives have become.

A troubling piece in its reality, but then isn't that so with all black comedy! Sydney Stock (Mark Hadfield) has been caring for his wheelchair bound mother, Nell (Miriam Margolyes) for some 50 years and hardly ventures out for personal pleasure in the London metropolis. A troubled soul, Sydney has been broken by events in the past and is now bound to the shackles that tie him to his wickedly cantankerous mother. Act 1 sees their continuous sparring and spitting of words. Life is bleak and the most enjoyment that each can achieve is through the verbal destruction of the other. There is nothing else. Dredging up the past, pointing fingers of blame, shouting accusations is the norm for this pair and is building up to a climax that we can feel and dread.

In the middle of this is the committed Irish care worker, Marion Fee (Vivien Parry) whose good nature and openness leave her vulnerable to the pulls and abuses of both mother and son. Caught in their trap she is a victim that unjustly carries their accusations, the only thing that both can agree on.

Margolyes is a master of character portrayal. When I saw her all those years ago in 'Dicken's Women' I was mesmerised by her skill and ability to adopt the gestures and nuances that brought her characters to life. Now, some years later, she has achieved the same with Nell Stock. Of course her diction and intonation are clear but it is her physicality, her body shifts and facial expressions, that are the real deal. You are completely drawn in, transfixed entirely. She was Nell and her audience were invested  in her portrayal. With a setting that demands the audience is seated on three sides, I was occasionally frustrated when her back was to me as I missed seeing those wonderful looks and grimaces that made her so compelling but it did not detract from the excellence of her performance and she rightly received her ovations.

Vivien Parry was likewise convincing. Her voice was restful and reassuring; she was the well meaning care worker and despite the harsh and racist insults thrown at her by Sydney, she maintained a professionalism that convinced you of her role.

And then to troubled, traumatised Sydney (Mark Hadfield), whose internal stifling of past fears and experiences had rendered him as an unpleasant bigoted individual on the edge of his personal volcano. Misshaped by his past, he has become an adult terrified of life, unable to cope and on the verge of insanity. Sirens and loud noises create psychotic episodes, nothing would surprise us. Both he and Nell are unable to maintain any civility and take a sinister joy in their mutual goading and destruction, which ironically hide their strong inter dependence. Hadfield's projection of his mood swings was convincingly terrifying as we were never quite sure of what he might do.

There could never be a happy ending to this story. A black comedy, directed by Philip Breen has moments of humour and, particularly in Act 1, raise wry smiles and for some uncomfortable laughter. This is an untenable situation, all too familiar with many families living in similar situations. And yet we can smile, which is testament to O'Hare's writing and character depiction. The past is hideously comfortable and familiar, the future is all too bleak in its unknown. What else remains but to survive another day - 'Life goes on - don't it bloody just!' A fine piece achieved by the three strong cast and the creative team, Park Theatre can now add to is growing list of great new writings Sydney & The Old Girl which should transfer after its limited run at this intimate and delightful venue. I believe the production has sold out, but it is worth trying to grab a ticket if any become available.

Listings

Sydney & The Old Girl

Venue: Park200, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Dates: 31 October - 30 November 2019
Age Guidance: 14+ (but I would suggest older)
Performance Times: Mon-Sat evenings 7.30 pm, Thu & Sat matinees 3.00 pm.
Prices: Standard £18.50-£32.50 with concessions available.
Booking: www.parktheatre.co.uk or 020 7870 6876 (10% telephone booking fee capped at £2.50 per ticket)
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes (incl interval)
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