THE KING’S HEAD THEATRE, ISLINGTON.
The Civil Rights movement forms the backdrop for this tetchy family drama from Paul Minx.
The love and care devoted to teenager Ivy by a servant – and an unpaid one at that – develops over a summer into the most important relationship in her life. And that serves only to highlight the failings, great and small, of her parents in Paul Minx’s play about characters hovering on the periphery of the US Civil Rights movement in 1965.
Imogen Stubbs is on great form as the tottering, gin-soaked mother who still maintains some vestige of dignity, even kindness, despite her wits having a tendency to wander. Stubbs played a very similar role – drunk and disappointed parent – in Strangers on a Train, but here she seizes all its potential with a stirring and at times richly comic performance.
Cornelius Macarthy creates a powerful presence as Andre, the ‘help’, a flawed hero with some pretty heavyweight secrets to hide.
The irritable, sausage-manufacturer husband is played with authority by Michael Brandon. Lydea Perkins makes a pert and wilful Ivy, who makes up to her father, scorns her mother and practises blackmail on Andre with all the ardent arrogance of youth, regardless of the vintage swimming costume she’s stuck with for the entire show.
There could scarcely be more of a contrast than with the maid, Grace, and Kriss Bohn conveys the burning sense of political idealism that guides her life and her love.
On the face of it, Mum has the sketchiest semblance of authority in her own household, and Grace pays a heavy price for her forthright ways. But while the play builds up a tide of tension that seems heading for disaster, in the event it ends with a rather rosy sunset scene of Grace leading her man off to join the civil rights marches while Imogen Stubbs shrugs off the bottle, lets down her hair and takes charge of affairs at home.
Along the way it explores a whole range of themes from race relations to whether religion does anyone any good. It was inspired by the playwright’s own very fond memories of a childhood servant, whose stories and enthusiasm played their part in firing his own imagination, and under Sarah Berger’s smart direction, it’s a well crafted look at a dysfunctional family.