...AN ONLINE PORTFOLIO Miriam Margolyes

THE SPECTATOR - LLoyd Evans 16th November 2019 29th April 2020

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Eugene O’Hare sets his new play, Sydney & the Old Girl, in a rotting east London terrace. Frail old Nell, confined to her wheelchair, shares the house with her son, Sydney, a bitter, foul-mouthed bachelor pushing 50. ‘Nothing but a bin lid full-time,’ Nell carps. ‘Shut up, you deaf old snatch,’ he replies. When she labels him ‘a mong’ he threatens to push her wheelchair off a cliff. ‘Skulking around in that effing chariot, barking orders.’ This deliciously nasty dialogue is a treat for anyone who likes their invective raw and bitter. But some critics were repelled by its crudity. ‘Horrid,’ frowned one reviewer. Sydney meets Nell’s trusting Irish nurse, Fee, and tries to charm her by posing as a cosmopolitan gadabout whose West End haunts include Chinatown. ‘There’s definitely something to be said for the Chinese,’ offers Sydney airily. ‘Stony-faced chain-smoking duplicitous pack of bastards.’ This wonky attempt at praise, masking a deep-seated misanthropy, carries a lovely echo of Pinter. And there are strong hints of Orton and Beckett here as well. After its hilarious opening the play settles into more conventional territory. A bunfight erupts over Nell’s will after she hatches a plan to bequeath her house to Fee’s favourite cause, the Sister Aloysius Hospitable Charity for the Orphaned Irish in London. The name sounds bogus but Fee seems too decent to be a swindler. Miriam Margolyes does brilliantly as the toxic pixie, Nell, enthroned in her wheelchair and seething with rancour. Mark Hadfield portrays Sydney as an impotent tight-fisted misery guts tormented by a phobia of police sirens. Even Hadfield, a light comedian of extraordinary power, struggles to make Sydney appealing and this may explain why some of the play’s notices sounded like lectures rather than critiques. Reviewers complained that O’Hare lacked originality, that his rhetoric was too venomous, that his characters were loathsome and his world outlook rancid. But a playwright’s job is to present life as he sees it, not to create personalities who merit a cuddle from the Critics’ Circle. 10,000th issue special offer Get twelve weeks of The Spectator for just £12 - plus a bottle of commemorative gin CLAIM SPECIAL OFFER Park Theatre has staged two of O’Hare’s plays in rapid succession, perhaps hoping that the boy wonder will create a hit. I wouldn’t bet against it. He deserves to get a call from the National. WRITTEN BY Lloyd Evans

Posted : 29th April 2020

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