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Going Straight provides old-fashioned escapism



Review by David Munro

GOING Straight, by Richard Harris, were it not for 'adult' language and some smutty jokes, would have been an ideal 'matinee' play.

The sort you could take your maiden aunt to, pointing out that it starred that nice Miss Collins and Mr Alderton that you enjoyed so much as the footman and housemaid in Upstairs, Downstairs.

It is an implausible but pleasant piece concerning itself with a retired head of a London gang – sorry 'firm' (as he was quick to point out) - living in super-tech- protected luxury in a villa in Spain.

He has invited his former second-in-command, plus wife, for a visit because, as it transpires, Channel 4 are making a film/documentary based on their criminal activities.

A researcher from the studio interviews them; a nice girl, but not (as you might expect ) exactly whom she appears to be.

In case there are any of you who will not guess the plot in the first ten minutes, I will not delve deeper into the storyline, except to say that what ensues is entertaining, if far-fetched.

It is, in fact, the sort of play that you enjoy at the time but does not bear much probing for plausibility thereafter.

It is true that most of the pleasure is gained from watching the highly competent actors going through the author’s dramatic hoops.

Chief of these is John Alderton, as Michael, the super criminal, who glories in his past and is not ashamed to talk about it.

His East End accent is about as authentic as a pearly kings costume, but it suits the character of a man who has played a part all his life and doesn’t know when to stop.

As the character dominates the his confreres so Alderton dominates the cast. You get the impression he does not believe a word of his dialogue but that he is enjoying delivering it with his tongue firmly in his cheek, a presentation of the part that pays dividends at the final denouement.

As his dyspeptic and possibly dying side-kick, Raymond, George Costigan is an admirable foil for Alderton.

Giving as good as he gets, he builds up a very sympathetic character of a man loyal to his boss and his code of ethics, but innately simple and probably decent under his crooked exterior.

A character not dissimilar to that he played as George in Of Mice and Men.

Raymond’s wife, Brenda, is brilliantly brought to life by Pauline Collins. She compensates for the very minimal dialogue given to the character by making every line tell and when she has nothing to say, she still dominates the stage with her presence; a silent commentary on the other’s antics.

Gone is the nice Shirley Valentine and in her place is a tough East End wife, fiercely protective of the man she married, and prepared to put up with whatever he does so long as she can turn a blind eye to it.

By sheer force of personality and acting skills, she turns what could have been a cipher in to a real character and a force to be reckoned with.

You may ask why she took such a subsidiary part. My answer to that is that I suspect, (and I have nothing with which to back up my suspicion), she and Alderton saw the opportunity the play would give to their daughter, Kate Alderton, who plays Polly, the film company researcher.

If so, they must be proud that she took the opportunity offered and gave a performance which, if more muted, matched those of her parents.

Beside having the attractive good looks of her parents, she has inherited their dramatic skills as well.

You realise from the outset that Polly is not what she seems; not just from the dialogue, but from the nuances and body language of Miss Alderton’s performance.

On the surface, it is a very good and extremely competent performance as the Essex Girl studio hanger on being given her big chance to make good.

Underlying that, one senses the steel in her character, so that when the mask is removed, the character is wholly plausible in her alter ego.

I see her stealing the notices from Mum and Dad, but I don’t suppose for a minute they will begrudge them to her; she is an actress definitely to be watched.

Francine, Michael’s wife, is a peripheral character and, one suspects, is only there to make up numbers at dinner and provide an excuse for John Alderton to prove that the heartless crook may have a heart after all.

Carol Royle plays her with cold charm emphasising that her marriage was a bargain from which she reckons she has come out the winner. She is allowed a few catty moments with Pauline Collins, which provide an amusing counterpoint to their husbands Batman and Robin relationship.

The set, by Hayden Grffin, has the right air of opulent vulgarity one would expect from the characters and allows for a wall television screen which plays a significant part in the plot.

Alan Strachan moves the piece along at a spanking pace disguising the plot flaws with an enviable expertise and adding the required verisimilitude to what would otherwise be a very unconvincing narrative.

The play is an enjoyable piece of theatre and makes a pleasant, if somewhat dated, contrast to the school of realism and self analysis which seems to dominate today’s 'good' plays.

I am all for escapism if it is well done and this is really well done. I wish the excellent cast good luck when they transfer to the West End where it will probably be dismissed for all the reasons I find it so appealing.

It is theatrical, implausible and far-fetched, but if you come out at the end of feeling you have spent an enjoyable few hours, isn’t that what 'Theatre' is all about?

I think so anyway and for that reason have no hesitation in motivating you into going straight to see it!

Going Straight, by Richard Harris.
Directed by Alan Strachan; Set Designer, Hayden Griffin; Costume Designer, Christopher Cahill; Lighting, Jason Taylor; Video Director, Nic Alderton; Music Director.
CAST: John Alderton; Pauline Collins; George Costigan; Carol Royle; Kate Alderton.
Presented by Bill Kenwright.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Mon, Nov 1 – Sat, Nov 6, 2004
Evenings: 7.45pm / Matinees: Wed. & Sat. 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088.

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