Daniela Denby-Ashe and Chris Coghill
Old Red Lion
Where: Inner London
22 June 2009 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews In mourning for his father, his love life, and his own failing career, 33-year-old music journalist John goes back home to Yorkshire to look after his widowed mother. She however sees her son as the one who needs looking after. He is obsessed by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who proves to be the most influential person in his life, despite the best efforts of his mother and his girlfriend to save him from himself.
John is trying to write a biography of Cobain but is distracted by the apparent resurrection of his hero. Cobain, played by Tom Railton as a coquettish egomaniac, comes back to life in front of him and taunts him about his mediocrity and inability to complete the chosen task. This is the least successful element in an otherwise sharply observed play about the loss of hope, aspiration and suicide.
There is too much self-conscious by-play over the fact that a ‘dead guy’ is manipulating a man still clinging to life, and the final scene involving a pistol and a McDonalds Happy Meal box is somewhat heavy-handed, even anticlimactic, but for the most part Martin Sadofski’s script manages the rare combination of clinical precision and raw emotion.
The play’s real strength lies in the relationship between John and his mother, and the battle between mother and girlfriend for John’s soul. These scenes contain a wealth of telling detail in both writing and performance. Ruth Evans as John’s mother captures all the pain and resignation of a woman who has never known how to love either her husband or her son. She has sacrificed her life for her son, out of a sense of ‘what’s right’, and she is now confronted by his determination to waste it all. She is the sort of woman who says, ‘I’ve never liked bookshelves – it’s showing off’. She spends her days in endless housework and there is a terrifyingly ironic twist at the end when her obsessive cleaning is given a new dimension.
Daniela Denby-Ashe infuses John’s ‘mildly bulimic’ beautician girlfriend with both depth and passion but the evening belongs to Chris Coghill as John. He creates a shattering portrait of a man giving up on all the things that he ought to hold most dear, most of all his own once promising talent. This is full-blooded, in-your-face acting that will make you wince with admiration.
- Giles Cole
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