28 Feb

BY Colin Higgins
At Charing Cross Theatre.

This is not a play for the cynical at heart.
The existential theories expressed by Sheila Hancock as Maude are beautifully displayed, but hasn’t all this been said before, when we used to say “All you need is Love”? Sadly ignored by the eighties generations who seem to have thrown all that out the window in favour of “Money Money Money!”
At curtain up, the on-stage musicians are playing light music. A young man is standing on a chair with a noose around his neck.. The boy jumps and presumably hangs himself. The maid screams. Is this going to be a murder mystery? Of course not, unless it is all played as a back story. We know that the young man is Bill Milner who is obviously one of the stars of this play so we are sure to see him again.
We are not alarmed.
Nor is the boy’s mother – a wonderfully funny straight faced comedy performance by Rebecca Caine who talks to Harold as if he is not hanging from the ceiling with a rope around his neck. She chides him for wearing brown socks with black shoes and is shocked to see he is not wearing a necktie.
She is the one responsible for telling us this is comedy – a great opportunity which she takes with both hands.
The boy of course comes back to life and we find out that he is fascinated by death and loves to visit funerals. This is where he meets the strange old lady Maude, a human being who still believes in the power of imagination and individuality. She is played, of course, by the great Sheila Hancock who wears wonderful hippy colours and who carries off her gentle goodness with great aplomb as to the manor born.
It is an amusing piece but, I felt, somewhat old fashioned and I wonder if it is to be enjoyed by a modern audience.
It is of course exquisitely directed by Thom Southerland and brilliantly acted. Francis O’Connor has devised the adaptable set , and for our especial delight, there is music. Most of the roles – apart from the featured star performers are played by actor/musicians who are set up on stage and play at times during the performance.
For an ancient hippy it is a delightful escape into the past – Love ins and Flower Power.
The more cynical might find it rather soppy.

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