As regular readers will know I don’t really do reviews. But I saw a play last night, written by a friend, and I want to tell you about it, because I think she’s really good at what she does. So fair enough?
“The Punter” then is Deb’s first full play, following her brilliant novel “Disappearing Home” about growing up in Everton. There’s a full house in the theatre tonight, part of the Hope University Shaw Street campus, or “the old SFX” as the friends with me call it.
Some of us have seen an extract from the play performed before, by Deb and a friend at our “Peaceful Warrior” event last September. So we know we’re in for a bit of a comedy. But subsequent development by Deb and the whole company has considerably darkened things from what we saw last autumn. In the awful political vernacular of our awful Tory rulers we see a just about managing GP, Margaret, just about managing to get on with a barely coping patient, Nicholas. Much of the play taking place in her surgery, where she’s always urgently needed somewhere else and where the usual ’10 minutes per patient’ time slot is never going to be enough for Nicholas with all his mental anxieties, depression, loneliness and an annoying tendency to challenge Margaret’s prescribed medications with the opinions of internet quacks.
Nicholas, played by Graham Hicks, is a huge character, compared to diminutive and sometimes frightened Margaret (Denise Kennedy). Looming over her as he frustratedly tries to describe the darkness he feels and pleads for treatments from her with less aggressive side effects.
“I can only get to sleep with a pillow between me legs!”
As, aside from the skeleton, there are only two characters in “The Punter” the dialogue and the timings are a considerable feat to pull off in this first ever public performance. And after the interval (the relief that it’s all going well?) everything seems tighter, funnier, deeper and dafter, even the writing, as the play moves through high farce and utter desolation to a resolution I won’t tell you about for fear of spoiling things. It’s a story after all and they all tell it very well.
There is considerable hamming up of course. Impossible to avoid when your main prop is a pile of bones. But the laughter they pull off is essential and more than helps carry us all through the sudden switches into bleakness. Like when he pleads
“Why won’t you call me Nicholas?”
as Margaret once again fails to be everything he needs, all in one lonely GP, whose main solace is soliloquies with a skeleton.So a great night with huge applause from a delighted audience at the end. Well done Deb, well done the actors and everyone behind the scenes, and well done Director Tim Lynskey. I trust you all went off for a few celebratory drinks after that? Not too many mind, as you’ve got to do it all again tonight, Saturday.
And thoughts from me the next day? Well as above about seeing if the first half needs tightening or was it just because it was the first night?
Then also, it feels like a very Liverpool play to me. And while I understand the need for it to travel to other places, I’m not sure the places named in it have to have made up names?
(I would think you need a sense of place wouldn’t I?)
So it would do no harm, in my opinion, if the parks were called ‘Newsham’ or ‘Stanley’ say. Or if the hospital was ‘Alder Hey.’ Adding to the sense of a real place, without at all diminishing the universal messages of the play. About the difficulties of kindness, empathy and understanding in a world where time, systems and costs are in charge.
And that’s me. Completing the tricky job of writing a review of something by a friend! Well done you Deb Morgan. I’d say all of us who came last night are dead proud of you.
“The Punter” is on again tonight, Saturday, at The Cornerstone. But all tickets are sold. It will though be on at The Unity Theatre in Liverpool later in the year, 8th and 9th September.
Photos of “The Punter” by Deborah Morgan