...AN ONLINE PORTFOLIO Miriam Margolyes

The Barefoot Review - by Samela Harris 9th May 2014

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After the applause, it's time for pondering.
Lally Katz presents us with a play about a very lovely friendship - not just between neighbours but between old and young and across cultural gaps.

In Neighbourhood Watch,   a feisty old Hungarian widow called Ana reaches out of her solitude to befriend a young neighbour called Cathy. Cathy's an aspiring actress who shares a house with a geeky friend. Louise  McCarthy's design for the neighbourhood creates strangely bland and very tall box houses which, with cunning geometrics, can seem as thin as a guard house or as broad as a unit front as they turn. With the aid of stage hands, they turn frequently. One of them opens up to illustrate the interior of Ana's house.

There is an abstract sense of street. It is quite spacious and cold. Lonely. One neighbour runs around delivering flyers. Delivery boys come and go. Wheelie bins go in and out. Ana's dog barks from an invisible back yard.  Thus is suburban life delivered.

The real life, however, comes in the form of Miriam Margolyes as Ana. She is Ana. In one tremendous and utterly committed performance she becomes this peculiar little old lady with a terrible past and a tenacious spirit. She is a difficult, bossy, needy old chook.

Katz has Ana impose her history upon her new friend so that Cathy embodies Ana's past in memory scenes.  These, too, feel as if they are drawn as sketches onstage. They are outlines of narrative which are pieces slowly forming a whole.

The construction of the play is in every way unconventional. 
It's heart, however, is as old as time. It reaches out for human understanding. It notes the immense importance of care in the community and the value of learning about others. Strangers are mysteries and easy to ignore. But everyone has a story. Everyone has emotional needs. Sometimes, these can match up magically.  So they do for Ana and Cathy.

And as expressed through Miriam Margolyes, it is a passage which not only tickles the funny bone but also makes the heart ache.

Margolyes in floppy floral frock and sensible shoes, kidnaps the eye for every moment she is onstage. Eleanor Stankiewicz towers beside her, clad in bright pop colours. She is strident as visual contrast. She is beautiful as an actress, blessed with an exceptional voice. She cooly underplays the role of Cathy giving the impression of a little girl lost.

Eugenia Fragos assumes an almost caricatured appearance of advanced years in portraying the hobbling old Serbian neighbour from Ana's last neighbourhood. Doggedly, this old survivor offers her friendship, undeterred by Ana's almost brutal shuns. Her plight brings tears to the eye.

Effectively, Nic English plays the mysterious boyfriend, Martin while Carmel Johnson is solid and sensible as Christine next door. Newcomer James Smith is touching as Cathy's smitten housemate.

Somewhere in this production,  directed by Julian Meyrick, there is an undefinable tension. Or, is it a sense of detachment?   After the applause has died down, one is left contemplating what it was that seems odd. It's a puzzle.

Not so, however, is the divine Miss Margolyes. A consummate performance. From a memory play, she leaves an imprint never to be forgotten.


Posted : 9th May 2014

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