Amy's View at the Aldwych Theatre

By playwright David Hare's own admission, Amy's View is a work which attempts to be multiple things - family history, political statement, artistic defense and the ultimate 'chick flick' (albeit on the stage). Where it triumphs most convincingly is as a worthwhile vehicle for its formidable star Judi Dench.

Dench plays West End actress Esme Allen who lives with mother-in-law Evelyn (Joyce Redman) in the suburban home of her late husband. Starting in 1979, the story follows the relationship between Esme and her loving but headstrong daughter Amy (Samantha Bond). Over the next four acts and 16 years, the maternal bond is tested through a number of crises - including Amy's marriage to and divorce from a man her mother dislikes and Esme's financial ruin.

Dench is a wonder to behold as Esme. No doubt she can empathise with her character's struggle to maintain artistic dignity during a time when it has become almost impossible for an actress to survive by theatre alone. But despite the betrayal of her profession, Esme is the staunchest defender of the art and weaves before our eyes a magic that only a stage can contain.

Her opponent in this debate - as well as in the tug of war over her daughter's affections - is son-in-law Dominic (Eion McCarthy) whose star is hitched to the screen. He claims to speak for 'his generation' when he asserts that 'theatre is dead', but comes across as such a spoilt, and sadly misinformed, philistine that his argument holds little weight.

In fairness to McCarthy, Dominic s superficiality is as much a fault of the script as anything. Amy continually chastises her mother for not seeing the kinder, gentler side of her husband but, if it exists, it s a side that s equally invisible to the audience. And with such an unsympathetic and wayward partner, it s hard to share Amy s view, of the title, that 'love conquers all.'

McCarthy aside, however, Dench is backed by some superb supporting roles. Bond s Amy is a woman who talks a tough fight but can t avoid screwing up her own life. And both Ronald Pickup s sozzled neighbour and Redman s sharp-tongued Evelyn produce moments of great hilarity.

You may not agree with Amy s rose-coloured view of the world but there s no denying that theatre will never die as long as Esme - and her doppelganger Dench - still tread the boards.

Amy's View has transferred to the Aldwych following a sell-out run at the National Theatre. It s been nominated for three Olivier Awards including Best Actress for Dench, Best Performance in a Supporting Role for Pickup and Best New Play.

Terri Paddock, January 1998