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Beautiful House (Manchester)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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An often startling slap-in-the-face mix of farce and tragedy, Oldham writer Cathy Crabb’s highly-original Beautiful House has a frustratingly unfinished work-in-progress feel about it. If only someone would really get hold of it, it could be so good it could go anywhere.

Ronnie (John Henshaw, of those irritating Post Office ads) is a retired teacher, married to Bridgette (Janice Connolly, aka Mrs Barbara Nice) a housewife and onetime musical theatre performer.

They have just moved out of their detached in Delph - so their daughter Emily, who is seriously ill, can spend her last days in her childhood surroundings - and are settling into their new flat in inner city Manchester. They aren’t happy and they’re even more depressed when they meet the neighbours from the floor below.

Paula (Sally Carman, alias Kelly Ball of Shameless) and Otis (James Foster) are a young couple with a young daughter. They’re very much from the other side of town to Ronnie and Bridgette but their hearts are in the right place and they rapidly expose the incomers as self-centred snobs.

It’s not just the interaction between the two couples that powers the play, it’s often the off-stage presence of the dying daughter that suddenly rips through the hilarity to bring everything to a shuddering jolt that leaves the audience squirming in their seats.

And it’s this disturbing fusion of laughs and intense shock that makes Beautiful House something quite special. But I’m afraid there are several buts.

Vastly-experienced director Noreen Kershaw is now at the helm (Coronation Street, Moving On, Shameless and oodles of stage productions) and I’m surprised she hasn’t taken a stronger line with both script and cast. On opening night it looked very under rehearsed.

The piece is too long. It needs cutting and playing straight through without an interval. The bulk of the extensive swearing also needs to go – middle-aged middle-class couples don’t cuss like squaddies.

I’m afraid the casting isn’t perfect either. In particular, I can’t believe in the affable Henshaw as a former science teacher.  Carman however as the young mother with opinions is quite brilliant, one of the performances of the year so far for me.

And despite my reservations, I strongly urge you to see Beautiful House as it is very, very funny. Meanwhile, fingers crossed that it might sometime in the future get the treatment and production it deserves.

- Alan Hulme


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