For Albert, the arrival of retirement means more of the domestic hammer-and-tongs battling that has provided the mortar in his marriage to Connie. It takes her premature death in a traffic accident to make him see that it was in such war-games that they found their happiness. In his own interest, Connie starts meddling from beyond the grave and, before her final, final exit, gets him set up with a neighbour who, as we leave, is shaping up to be every bit as much of a harridan as she.
It's not a play, then, with momentous new insights, but Steel's writing has plenty going for it. He has, for starters, a seemingly endless fund of witty one-liners, even if they have a tendency to come out as authorial interruptions rather than being character-driven. (A hilarious observation about the gender of God and the taste of sperm, for example, proved to be show-stoppers at the performance I attended, but these lines surely belong to one of the young women from Steel's earlier plays rather than the post-menopausal Connie.) There is also a big, unsentimental heart and genuine compassion permeating the play which could so easily have sunk into vaudeville.
As director of his own play, Steel is well served by his cast of three. It is only when Graham Bill opens his mouth and produces a northern noise that you realise he is not the lately defunct Roy from EastEnders, but his portrayal of a man facing retirement, shortly followed by the bereavement of his wife, is true, moving, frequently comic and never maudlin. Connie, alive and dead, is portrayed both loud and kindly by Pamela Merrick, and Ruth Carr displays an array of wigs and personal idiosyncrasies in three cameos which, structurally, could as well be a single character. The set by Graham Kirk is a cutaway interior in overall pastel orange, which is anything but easy on the eye.
Albert Nobbs is an efficient and tidy piece of writing which clearly deserves its theatrical outing and will provide audiences with a quietly satisfying evening. But one could be forgiven for wishing it had been a bit more ambitious.
- Ian Watson (Reviewed at Hull Truck Theatre)