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One for the Road (Royal, Northampton)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Willy Russell’s comedy provides a fitting title for the swansong production by departing artistic director Laurie Sansom. And the show itself provides a fine farewell to the man who has run this building for seven years, helming a period of extraordinary critical and popular acclaim and reinforcing Northampton’s place on the theatrical map.

The play itself is regular Russell fare, with the broad, effective comedy rooted in class and social aspirations, and Sansom’s production makes good use of the 1980s setting, with excellent period detail from designer Jessica Curtis on a fascinating minimalist set of invisible walls and housing estate conformity.

The cast of four are consistently superb, with the slow disintegration of the two couples’ relationship carefully and precisely drawn, with moments of pathos and pain along the way.

Con O’Neill, at the heart of the piece, reveals an impressive control of his character Dennis, descending through drink and a midlife crisis into crazy behaviour and wild extravagances. He is ably matched by Michelle Butterly, a wonderful foil as his wife Pauline, who lurches between superficial snobbery and affectionate devotion.

Their dinner-party guests, Jane and Roger, are beautifully played by Nicola Stephenson and Matthew Wait, one the self-appointed guardian of the new estate’s standards, the other all flashy smile and no substance. The foursome, who could so easily veer into stereotypical caricatures, are instead three-dimensional, believable creations whose every motive and action is clear and credible.

Russell’s script is full of big laughs coupled, as you might expect from the writer of Blood Brothers, with moments of real poignancy, and Sansom and his team are alert to every nuance. The result is an evening of enormous pleasure, and a suitable tribute to the departing director. He will be greatly missed in Northampton.




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