Made In Colchester at the Mercury Theatre Colchester
We are a grandfather … so this UK première of Roger Hall's soft-centred show about growing old and grandchildren was certain to hit the spot.
It's almost as if a focus group had come up with all those Third Age clichés: dodgy knees, deafness, technophobia, Christmas crises, skyping across the world, infant artwork on the fridge, a sideboard, even a stairlift – Stannah have supported this Colchester production.
In Andrew Breakwell's delightful production a single set does duty as the family home and Hillcrest retirement village. There's a grand piano, too, not only for the family photographs but also for the Musical Director, Stefan Bednarczyk, who does a nice line in Cowardish singing and Brechtian interventions, as well as accompanying the grandparents in Peter Skellern's songs.
There's a lot of schmaltz and sentiment in this gentle score – the best of this is the wistful Sunrise Sunset moment at the top of Act Two [They Grow Up So Quickly], reprised at the end, when the years have caught up with Kath and Maurice, who says a fond goodbye to his grandchildren before taking that last stairlift to heaven …
Happily there are one or two lively, sharper numbers, like the Twice A Night Tinkle Tango [don't ask] and Don't Let The Little Bastard Get Away, which cleverly imagines the bathtime/bedtime routine as a fitness workout.
The grandchildren are all invisible, left to mime and our imagination. Some stereotypes here [football for Sugar Rush Leonard, ballet for his sister, just as it's golf for grandad and book group for grandma]. But at least there's asthmatic, wussy Ollie, who brings along his Glee DVDs and ends up starring as Pharoah and Bloody Mary – we could have used his Happy Talk as an encore at the end of this somewhat depressing look at what the future has in store for the baby-sitting generation.
Lovely characters from two seasoned performers: Kate Dyson is Kath, delighting in her new role as grandmother, showing the photos [“They're not interested!” protests Maurice], and finally, Maurice gone, moving in to the annexe to be useful once more. Her role considerably enlivened by the glitterball Act One finale – I Still Got It Honey – where she struts her stuff on the work surface. Paul Greenwood plays Maurice, subtly ageing from the sprightly pram-pusher to the shuffling depressive confined to his favourite armchair.
All very nicely done; the audience chuckled away as boxes were ticked and funny bones tickled. But ultimately a little bland, a little shallow – one longed for something edgier, more acerbic, such as might have been penned by David Nobbs or Sue Townsend …
production photograph by Robert Day