This thoroughly nasty play lacks direction and purpose despite the utterly convincing performances of its cast in this world premiere production.
It is truly difficult to know where to begin with this deeply dark comedy that although attempts to cover topics such as loneliness and grief – yet these issues are sufficiently explored in Eugene O’Hare’s play.
The play begins with Sydney (Mark Hadfield) attempting to repair his mother Nell’s (Miriam Margolyes) broken television set – but it soon turns into a vicious battle of words as they each try to tear the other down. Soon though Nell’s carer Marion finds herself caught up in this battle for control that is enhanced by an argument about inheritance.
Despite this sharply directed production by Phillip Breen, who fully makes the most of the viciousness of O’Hare’s script, the plot never really goes anywhere, leaving more questions than answers. This is a real shame because there are glimmers of insight into grief due to the death of Nell’s other child many years ago – which instead of uniting them tears them apart. The most memorable moments come when it is clear that both of them are trapped in their own grief and not tearing strips off each other. It lacks any real build up and feels a bit one-note.
The other issue is the fact that although initially insults such as ‘deaf old snatch’ grab the attention, the more insults that are thrown the less impact and more tedious they become. It doesn’t help the audience understand the characters or the pain they are both in emotionally and it is only with the arrival of the kind hearted Marion that additional depth to the play is added.
Miriam Margolyes is on great form as Nell, by turns sharp and vulnerable but also filled with personality that is constantly compelling to watch. The flashes of horror and vulnerability that flash through her expressions add a little of much-needed heart and sympathy for the character. Elsewhere, Mark Hadfield as Sydney never really looks truly comfortable with his character – who is one of the most unpleasant I have come across in a play. His threats of physical violence towards his mother are horrific to hear and while utterly convincing in terms of delivery of lines, flashes of uncertainty are clear across his face. Out of them all, Vivien Parry offers the warmest and most likeable as Nell’s carer and charity worker – she shows great compassion for both characters and offers a wonderful break from the tension between mother and son. But ultimately none of them are given very much to do with any of their characters.
Deeply uncomfortable with very little purpose, Sydney and the Old Girl could have been so much more than it ultimately delivers.
By Emma Clarendon
Sydney and the Old Girl continues to play at the Park Theatre until the 30th November.