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Afternoon Tea (Manchester)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Venue: Taurus
Where: Manchester

The intimate theatre space at the Taurus Bar is the perfect location for the new production by Organised Chaos. Alice Allen’s simple set catches the cosy yet slightly artificial atmosphere of Ye Olde Tea Shoppe and allows us to eavesdrop on the conversation between the customers.

Afternoon Tea introduces us to Abigail (Julie Burrow) and William (Laurence Pickford) whose May- December romance is put under strain by Abigail’s jealousy and a revelation about William. At the next table upper middle class ladies Jean (Celia Carron) and Poppy (Dianne Rimmer) gossip about friends and family until one of the stories turns out to have particular significance for Jean.

This is a slight tale from Lindsay Kernahan and feels more like a work in progress than a polished final product. It is unbalanced concentrating more on Jean and Poppy so that Abigail and William are defined in broad strokes- one jealous and the other going through a mid-life crisis. But at least their story is realistic and convincing.

Poppy and Jean are funny because of their superficiality and ignorance but Victoria Wood did this sort of thing so very well there is not much more that can be done with the format. Bringing forward the revelation in the story of Jean and Poppy might have added a darker edge to the humour. You can’t help but feel that more could have been done – especially as the running time of the play is so short- to exploit the brief occasions when the four characters interact.

Apart from Burrow, who seems at home on stage from the start, it takes the cast awhile to relax but once the initial stiffness fades the performances are good. Carron and Rimmer provide a comic double act drawing humour from the nastiness of the middle class who are too dim to realise they are no better than the people to whom they feel so superior. Pickford preens like a smug peacock relishing the nicely over the top jealousy of Burrow.

Emma France directs with restraint, minimising the grand stage gestures that would over-whelm in such a limited space. The intimacy of the venue gives her the opportunity to add physical comedy that would otherwise be lost. When Poppy mentions that a friend came out in church, Jean instinctively makes the sign of the cross.

Despite the good efforts of all concerned Afternoon Tea remains a light lunch as opposed to a satisfying meal.

- Dave Cunningham


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