Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The House of Shades @ Almeida Theatre...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Beth Steel's The House of Shades at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

Starring the ever-brilliant Anne-Marie Duff as matriarch Constance Webster the play is an epic telling the story of a working-class family, the Websters living in an industrial community.

Directed by Blanche McIntyre we get to meet generations of Constance's family on a sweeping journey from a kitchen sink drama in 1965 and the optimism brought by the new Wilson government through to the industrial strife of the 1970s, the deindustrialisation of the 1980s, the rise of Thatcher, the rise of Blair, the Tory win of 2010, via Brexit, and through to the fall of the Labour Red Wall in 2019. Like I said, it's an epic. Three hours. Lots of social commentary. But great - if a little meandering in places.

As the action takes places over such a long time the many generations inevitably see the cast doubling up playing both fathers and sons; grandmothers, mothers and daughters. But with a deft hand McIntyre direction keeps us on track.

The themes are many and varied but essentially come down to politics - both personal, sexual and economic. A women's right to work; to the freedom from childcare. The justification for strikes in an age of rabid inflation. The chilling long-term effects of child abuse. A truly graphic depiction of a late stage abortion. The right to buy. Parental bullying. Bitterness and regret. The age of rage. How a social conscience can only get you so far. How incest is rarely (never!) the answer. Yes, folks, it's a Greek tragedy of sorts.

Steel seems to conclude that, broadly over the years, the Tories have done what has been expected of them, while the Labour movement has consistently failed those that it has existed to represent. When articulated through the angry voice of Constance's daughter Agnes, the writer’s views are potent, but they could prove to be a bitter pill for many to swallow, particularly when delivered here, in the heart of leafy Islington.

In the last 30 minutes the play does perhaps begin to feel the strain of its own worthiness. The sheer number and weight of all the arguments just begin to feel a tad too heavy for a night out at the theatre. But that said, when the human and political dramas do gel, when all the elements are working together, it's corker of a play.

PS: if you are thinking of going there are many warnings about the on-stage abortion in Act I. It is very graphic and has a particularly grisly ending. You have been warned!

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