Stella Feehily’s new play for Out of Joint, directed by Max Stafford-Clark, is smart, sharp and brightly written without coming to any great conclusion.
It’s more like a snappy collection of scenes in the life of Hildy, a forty-something social worker, who is divorcing her surgeon husband, Ben, organizing a revolt by office cleaning women in their City headquarters, and worrying about her old Irish dad in a home, her alcoholic former pop star mother and a son who’s a drug addict.
So Hildy’s got her hands full, like most of us, and while Catherine Russell fires off a few good shots and manages to suggest a tangled agenda of do-gooding and domestic crisis, she’s rather too secretive and retiring an actress to launch the full comic impact of the play; everything seems neatly laid out and nicely constructed, rather like Ben’s dinner of swordfish for two served on square white plates.
Not surprisingly, Hildy ends up in hospital with a heart condition. The straw that broke the camel’s back, and gave her the hump, was the sight of an overweight stranger raiding her fridge in the middle of the night. This turns out to be her son Jamie (Jamie Baughan) who’s kicked the heroin habit and piled on the pounds.
Serving Ben (Nigel Cooke) his divorce papers leads to a late burst of athletic sex on the hallway floor, with Ben’s new girlfriend Honey, a landscape gardener, appearing just with her mouth pushed through the letterbox. At least the political campaign pays off, with the converted bolshie cleaners of Mossie Smith and Thusitha Jayasundera capturing a pink-shirted banker in his lair.
She has less joy with mum Shirley, whom Paula Wilcox (looking implausibly young for a sixty year-old) plays as a slatternly Sandie Shaw type, veering off into Billie Holliday’s “God Bless the Child” on Lucy Osborne’s clever functional set suddenly glowing with light bulbs.
Ciaran McIntyre as her father Jack, who used to be Shirley’s manager, proves an ungrateful patient with a gruff repertoire of put-downs, while Giles Cooper, who recently delighted the critics with a helpful stint as a real-life West End publicist, pops up as both a harassed male nurse and the kidnapped banker.