A bold strike at a very difficult role

 

Review by Paul Nelson

Whichever came first, Alan Bennett's Talking Heads or Jimmy Chinn's A Different Way Home, matters little to me, though there is an arena here for speculation.

What does matter is the formula can provide excellent entertainment, as witnessed by the production of Chinn's play at Wimbledon Studio Theatre.

A Different Way home is exactly as the title suggests. It is two distinctly opposing views of the same family as seen through the eyes of a brother and sister.

The first act gives us Leslie, a mild mannered man, reminiscing on his family life with, in particular, his mother who has just died.

That she was important to him is in no doubt, that she was in all things healthy in her attitude toward him, and indeed his attitude toward her, is the stuff on which this drama speculates.

We get a very clear picture of lonely old age unassisted by lonely middle age as the two of them lived together in solitary as it were, untouched by the world outside. I got a distinct impression of several people, very similar, that I have known.

The second act, again almost a complete one-act play in itself, introduces us to Leslie's sister Maureen. Waiting for the funeral to start, she engages us with a few family skeletons glossed over by Leslie.

So detailed are these that we begin to wonder had Leslie deliberately concealed facts or is Maureen a gossipy bitch. Certainly by the end of the play we are in no doubt about the past history of the family, all involved in some intrigue or another, and the neighbours, equally with skeletons in their cupboards.

It is here that I feel the play falls down. Surely in a microcosm of two or three neighbours' houses there couldn't have been so many shenanigans?

No one escapes Maureen's laser. She has probed, listened and remembered and all of it comes out in a rush of bile, even though she constantly asks us to believe that she keeps herself to herself and isn't one for gossip.

Well, what with miscarriages, near murder, sexual infidelity, unwanted pregnancies, and other dark family secrets, the neighbourhood is one to avoid. This Maureen has done, though of course keeping herself to herself but with her ear to the ground.

There is a distinct possibility that in a small community there could conceivably have been such a torrid melting pot, but on reflection I have to say it all began to sound implausible through Maureen's monologue.

It isn't helped by being set in the author's native northern England. It all smacks just a little too much of Hilda Baker and Norman Evans.

This of course provides a trap for the performer and it is here that Beau Dearden, who plays both roles, is finally engulfed.

Surprisingly it is when he is playing Leslie that he is at his most unbelievable. In drag, as Lizzie Drip, a character he presents in pubs, he has avoided the obvious pitfalls and manages to be quite moving, even though Maureen is a stuck up prig.

Her final plea that everything would have been different if only anyone had told her and asked her for assistance is a stunning moment, and rightly, as it cannot be topped, is the final speech in the play.

Beau Dearden has his qualities. Holding an audience captive for a whole evening isn't one of them. Nonetheless, he is to be commended for a bold strike at a very difficult task.

A Different Way Home written and directed by Jimmie Chinn, with Beau Dearden (Leslie/Maureen). Designer/Stage Manager Wesley Henderson-Rowe. Lighting Designer David Buffham. Costume Design Mark Fisher Ltd. Make-up Liz Hilton.
Presented by Wimbledon Studio Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon. 020 8540 0362.