The New Vic has kick-started its autumn season with a sparkling new play which illuminates dark corners of family life with laugh-out-loud humour, compassion, and – like the Blackpool Lights at the symbolic heart of the drama – a dose of delightful tackiness.
on stage, like the living room with a bed in it on the other side of the
corridor, flaunts the worst of the 60s, until you notice the cordless
kettle and the idiosyncrasies begin.
You settle into your seat to the comforting nostalgia of a Wurlitzer organ and you can well imagine the floor opening up like the Tower ballroom, as Reginald Dixon slowly rises at the keyboard.
Instead you get Terry staggering home after a day’s work, loaded with shopping, whipping out a banana and taking a pretend pot shot at his frail sleeping mother before she wakes and has a go at him with her far-from-frail tongue.
The next entrance gives us Terry’s sister Marion, now Muna in a headscarf, and her husband Nasir. Muna’s morals may have become more conservative following her conversion, but her tongue, too, remains viciously peppy.
For her 80th birthday Mum wants all the family (one of whom now lives in Australia) to see the Blackpool lights again together. It’s where she met her husband. It’s where the young family took holidays. But we suspect that all was not light on the Golden Mile.
As Muna and Terry argue the not uncommon case for and against selling the house and putting Mum in a care home other strong issues, again not so uncommon, gather.
The dark material emerges into the light of revelation at pace and with much clever wit. The script steers skilfully wide of the maudlin and sentimental. Some dramatic peaks we see coming and they are all the funnier for it; others come as a complete surprise and are all the more moving for that.
Peter Leslie Wild directs with a sure hand that uses the intimacy afforded by theatre-in-the-round, as he puts it, “to allow the cast to give genuinely truthful performances, and the audience to feel thoroughly involved in every beat of the story.” The cast respond in spades.
Every word is crystal clear – helped sometimes by a set which requires them to call out from kitchen to sitting room and back – and so true to character that a generalised sympathy builds for the ensemble as a whole. We so want them to find harmony, to see the light.
- Seeing the Lights runs at the New Vic Theatre until October 3
By John Hargreaves