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The Bodyguard

Old Money

By • West End
WOS Rating:

Looking like a severe Gwen John portrait, Maureen Lipman as tart, 60-ish Joyce stands tight-lipped and beady-eyed through the opening funeral scene of Sarah Wooley’s lacklustre comedy before declaring her hand as a wannabe merry widow.

The mad thing buys a smart red coat and goes off to the opera. The ties that bind are loosened, which means dealing with a domineering mother, Pearl (Helen Ryan), and a 42 year-old daughter, Fiona (Tracy-Ann Oberman), who is expecting a third child.

Maybe the play should be re-titled "Old Mummy", but the fiscal element refers to the inheritance of the house as the banks implode - the year is, oddly, 2008, with Gordon Brown still staring at old grandma gloomily from the news pages - and middle-aged married couples are feeling the squeeze in the jobs and housing markets.

Fiona's hubby Graham (Timothy Watson) is a bit of a wash-out anyway, so Fi's hopes of moving up the housing ladder and leaving the maisonette in Collier’s Wood are minimal. Grandma lives in Cheam and the Surry bright lights are fading for Joyce.

Next thing we know, she's refusing to visit her husband's grave and talking to a stranger on a bench in Regent's Park. Senior rom com coming up, I thought, as bloke on bench is played by cuddly Geoffrey Freshwater from the RSC. Geoff (as a character disappointingly called Man 1) starts nudge-winking about a sick wife and a Brief Encounter-style rendezvous on Tuesdays or Thursdays.

But this wonder of Wooley's is short-lived as Joyce goes careering off into a louche pub where Geoff is now reincarnated as a hip-swivelling barman, which proves a mere warm-up for his return as Man 2, a lascivious cab-driver who suggests a quick knee-trembler in a back alley.

There's a song of Noël Coward's about another Surrey widow, Mrs Wentworth-Brewster ("hot flushes of delight suffused her"), teasing sailors and knocking back the gin on Capri.

Lipman's Joyce befriends a stripper (beautifully done by Nadia Clifford) in the pub and takes her to tea at the Ritz (where Geoff is now permanently reduced to servant status, not even Man 3) before executing drastic decisions about life, family… and money.

En route, Lipman thaws touchingly and dispenses trademark double-takes at the off-stage pole-dancing. But what Coward does in two witty verses, Wooley does in two slow-moving hours, though she does write a very good scene for Joyce and bed-ridden grandma at the end.

And director Terry Johnson and designer Tim Shortall have devised a respectable enough, fluent production with scenic wallpaper and a constellation of lampshades that might have come from a suburban branch of Christopher Wray.


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