‘Sydney & The Old Girl’ review

Theatre, Comedy
2 out of 5 stars
Sydney & The Old Girl, Park Theatre 2019
Photograph: Pete Le May

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

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Miriam Margolyes stars in this misfiring drama about a mother and her misanthropic son

Back in August, the Park Theatre staged Eugene O’Hare’s ‘The Weatherman’, a dour drama about sex trafficking. The playwright’s other work, ‘Sydney & The Old Girl, which was programmed by the theatre before the first had hit the stage, is a similarly bleak affair. 

Nell (Miriam Margolyes) and her grown-up son Sydney (Mark Hadfield) live together in a mouldering East End flat (emphatically ‘the East End’ not ‘east London’).  It is co-dependent hell, with both characters hating and belittling, but ultimately relying, on the other. It’s not an even fight: Margolyes’s stoic Nell shows good resistance against her son’s barrage of insults, but his treatment of her tips over into outright bullying and abuse. 

Into this festering pit of resentment steps Marion Fee (Vivien Parry), the Irish home help who regularly visits Nell. Marion’s Irishness is a ‘thing’ for Sydney, the same way the nationalities of most of the people he encounters in his area are a ‘thing’. 

From the point of view of watching the play, the problem isn’t that Sydney’s a bigot, it’s that he’s an unconvincing one. One recurrent insult centres on telling Marion how well Queen Victoria apparently treated the Irish, which is never very convincing as something the character would reference. She’s also called ‘Paddy’ and ‘leprechaun’. Meanwhile, Marion herself is shown as a nun-like saint, dedicated to helping the poor Irish orphans of London.

It’s all so broadly drawn it would be easy to dismiss it as stereotypical trash. Only O’Hare is himself Irish, which suggests it’s intended as cartoonish black humour. But if that is the case, like so much else here, the subtly and meaning get completely obscured. 

There’s a gaping hole waiting to be filled by a play of this kind. One that acutely but compassionately drills into the lives of the white working class in Britain and considers how decades of discontent and poverty breeds racism and paranoia. But, sadly, something has gone really awry here. 

By: Rosemary Waugh

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