They say that inside every fat person there's a thin one trying to break out. Inside Charles Laurence's wry new comedy About Alice, there’s at least one other play - a more serious one - scrabbling to emerge. Which is ironic, given that Laurence's best-known play to date is My Fat Friend.
In the new piece, we meet Alice Hogan and her friend Ned Jones as they return to Alice's house after the funeral of a mutual mate. Alice is the widow of Matthew Hogan, an internationally famous sculptor, whose artistic genius seems to have been equalled only by his womanising. Alice, as model and muse, had supplanted his first wife Edith.
Reminiscences of Matthew, Edith, the just-cremated Gloria and people and times past are interrupted when an American publisher - for whom the adjective 'brash' might have been coined - arrives with a young man in tow. Peggy Black wants much more than just a book and Joseph Panama is there to make quite sure that she attains her desires.
What Alice wants - for the night, at any rate - is Panama, and she gets him. Then, in the second act, surprise follows surprise and moods shift alarmingly. Alas, it's all too jerky for the suspension of disbelief proper in a theatre audience. Hence the sense of two separate plays.
One of these is about coming to terms with the passing of friends and lovers mirrored in the remorseless advance of age. The other is about fame, celebrity, notoriety - call it what you will - and the way it sucks a whole cataract of devotees and hangers-on down into its flamboyant whirlpool.
Given this dramatic dichotomy, David Taylor's cast has an uphill struggle. Gwen Taylor's Alice is entirely credible as an attractive woman coming to terms with both past and future. She is, however, struggling to maintain conviction by the last scene. Rosalind Cressy has something of a two-dimensional part as Peggy and never quite manages to round out the character.
The men have easier tasks. Francis Matthews makes Ned, who has fled the London scene for a French retreat, likeable enough - though most art critics I've met radiate a good deal more temperament and exuberance. Panama is a young stud with a subtly balanced sense of values and Michael Greco has the right sort of perky appeal for him.
At the end of the evening, you’re left feeling slightly let down. This should have been a better play. Two better plays.
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre)