Friday, May 09, 2014



Chichester Festival Theatre at the Minerva


A parlour forever Fifties. Antimacassars, whatnot, dog-eared sheet-music, reeds and moon-pennies [honesty] on the upright piano.
All aboard for a day in the suburbs!” - Palmers Green, to be precise, home to Peggy [Stevie] Smith and her dear Lion Aunt, brought to life on the stage in a seamless blend of memoir, poetry and dialogue by Hugh Whitemore.
Lovingly directed by Christopher Morahan, this is the kind of theatre Chichester does uniquely well. Not only Simon Higlett's evocative design, but the three pitch-perfect performances.
Zoe Wanamaker is the poet, neurotic and drily droll, awkward of posture, devoid of fashion sense, issue of an unsuitable marriage, lingering hopefully, smoking too much, escaping at the last moment from the drowned submarine of conformity, weeping in the bathtub. A funny, poignant performance, capturing the physique as well as the psychology of this lonely pocket Hercules.
Lynda Baron the Lion Aunt – a mane of grey wavy locks bringing a Yorkshirewoman's disdain of stuff and nonsense, eagerly anticipating her niece's approval of the Yorkshire brew, enjoying junket with brandy and cream, and at the last sleeping her life away in her favourite armchair, which her niece will briefly inhabit before leaving the suburbs, welcoming the Friend at the End of the World, penning her last poem as Life's railway train gives one last mournful whistle.
Every Man, watching from the parlour's shadows, quoting the odd verse, is Chris Larkin. He also plays the chaps in Stevie's life, most memorably the car-owning friend and literary critic. It is he who gives us her best-known work, Not Waving But Drowning, as she stands stock still, a vertical cigarette burning down like a votive candle.

Fourteen-year-old, why must you giggle and dote,
Fourteen-year-old, why are you such a goat?
I'm fourteen years old, that is the reason,
I giggle and dote in season.

The Conventionalist.

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