Pure Funktion, Manchester

Maine Road is a gentle and moving play examining the effect of change upon those things from which we derive our identity and sense of community. In the case of Leo (Daniel Fitzsimons) this is the Manchester City football ground at Maine Road, which, at the time the play is set, is due to close as the team move to their new stadium.

This is not the only trauma that Leo must endure. His father (whom Leo is still young enough to idolise) feels his divorced status frees him of parental responsibilities and tries to ignore the lad. The death of Leo’s grandmother has not only nudged his mother, Elaine, into depression but put the family at risk of eviction. Such a summary gives the impression that Maine Road is a tick-box misery drama. This is not the case. Sarah McDonald Hughes is an evocative writer capable of conjuring memories from a lingering smell and drawing out the significance of certain places in our lives.

As well as writing, Hughes acts in the play taking the only part that feels a little under-developed. She plays teenager Jade whose unselfish willingness to take-on the responsibilities ducked by her parents is never really explained. All other parts are convincingly drawn and Hughes ensures that the characters have redeeming features. Marie Critchley’s care-worn Elaine may not be a particularly good mother but the actor shows that she has been shaped by circumstances beyond her control and is devastated by the loss of her mother. Francesca Waite lets us see that the bureaucrat Donna is capable of caring when her crowed workload will allow. It is appropriate that Clive (Thomas Aldersley) is the least sympathetic character as it is hard to admire someone whose sense of entitlement lets him avoid his parental duties.

Central to the play is a terrific debut performance from Daniel Fitzsimons as Leo. As he listens to the football matches from his backyard we see that Leo yearns for the best but has learnt from experience to expect disappointment. Supporting Manchester City has taught him that the team will always lose the games that matter most. Skilfully, by the conclusion of the play, Hughes has moved Leo to the position where he is able to cope with disappointment and see a way forward towards maturity.

Director Martin Gibbons uses techniques such as the cast changing costumes on-stage to ensure a taut production. He gives the audience a well-balanced play with a warm atmosphere so that we can relax and enjoy the show.

Maine Road avoids nostalgia to deliver a bittersweet, moving tale that is highly recommended.

- Dave Cunningham