Menier Chocolate Factory, London, until May 6
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a show that has something worthwhile to say, that was well acted and directed and made me think. Above all, a show that didn’t patronise me.
Now, Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime has finally brought a bad run to an end.
It’s a triumphant production about life, love, growing old and dying that has absolutely restored my faith in theatre. I suppose it’s little wonder, given that it’s directed by Dominic Dromgoole, once the boss of Shakespeare’s Globe, who knows exactly what theatre should be about.
In the title role, the wonderful Anne Reid – probably best known these days for the BBC series Last Tango in Halifax and as Daniel Craig’s lover in The Mother – dominates the proceedings as an old girl living beside the seaside with a failing grip on reality, but still capable of moments of startling insightfulness as she navigates her relationship with her daughter, Tess (Nancy Carroll) and son-in-law, Jon (Tony Jayawardena).
The cast is completed by the dashing Richard Fleeshman as Walter, who appears to be a figment of Marjorie’s imagination, or maybe a distant memory, who is nevertheless her most engaging and charming companion and makes her laugh the most.
Maybe that’s the problem with real people living in the here and now – they so often fail in this regard. The story is supposed to be set in the future, and the writer had intended Walter to be a next-level holographic-android 3D projection of her late husband – it was all spelt out in a 2017 film version with John Hamm – but Dromgoole’s staging wisely leaves room for ambiguity so far as all the sci-fi stuff is concerned.
It’s there if you want it to be, but not if you feel it gets in the way of a fundamentally very strong story about human beings being human.
The real joys of the evening are to see Reid who, at 87, is still at the top of
her game, and to be reminded of what a great director like Dromgoole can do with our emotions.
He has the confidence, too, to dare to use silence – seemingly so out of
fashion now in the West End – to devastating effect.