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The Last of the Duchess

Alchemy in the UK (Southampton)

By • Southeast
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Southampton based writer Maggie Nevill’s new stage work, Alchemy in the UK< is a fictional account of life in post-credit crunch Britain and is woven around actual events that will strike a chord with local audiences. Described as “a play about the emotions of a man who is laid off from his job – about his feelings, frustrations, hopes and imaginings, and also those of the people around him” you are under no illusion as to the tone of the evening ahead.

The action takes place largely on and around the last remaining container at the now-abandoned recycling centre under the Itchen Bridge, piled high with discarded televisions, electrical equipment and other modern day waste. It’s a striking and stark setting, designed by Juliet Shillingford.

Jack (Geoffrey Freshwater) and Kelloggs (Paul Wyett) inhabit this dark world, and the narrative blends the exploration of their relationship with each other and the world, and that of Brian (John Bowler) – suffering a crisis of confidence having recently been made redundant from his “safe” twenty-year council job – his wife Clair (Julia Righton) and teenage daughter Tiff (Eleanor Yates).

In common with many modern original works, there is sharp political comment, insightful explorations of unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and prose full of black humour and angry outbursts. But sadly what it lacks is originality. The messages conveyed are all very familiar and the dialogue does not always feel authentic, in that words spoken at times seem to come straight from the author and not from the characters themselves.

That said, the cast – under the direction of the Nuffield Theatre’s own Patrick Sandford – is excellent, and makes the most of the bleak humour. The moments of tenderness between Jack and Kelloggs are genuinely moving, and the author finds her voice in the thwarted dreams of wife Clair, and the enduring optimism of daughter Tiff.

Relying so heavily on local knowledge and of local issues, it is difficult to image a life for this play beyond this production without significant re-working. For admirers of this author’s work then, now is the time to see it.


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