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Luck Penny

Aisling Foster's play at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre is "enjoyable, light fare"

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Lion & Unicorn Theatre

Sheila Ruskin and Peter Dineen
© Ciaran Cunningham
Writer Aisling Foster is a regular on the BBC's radio play line-up - and it really shows in her latest offering on stage.

Luck Penny is based on the intriguing and true tale she heard whisper of during her childhood: of Russian communists lending Russian crown jewels to Irish nationalists in 1920 in exchange for cash to help prop up their Russian Revolution.

Fast forward a couple of decades and that loan is an embarrassment to both parties - and where this play at the Lion and Unicorn theatre picks up is 1948 with aging Irishman Dr Brendan Regan (Peter Dineen) in wintry Moscow to do a covert deal with the Kremlin and hand the gleaming stash back.

Brendan is frustrated when left waiting around by Soviet bureaucrat Anton (a slightly miscast Howard Lee, who looks more like an English gent) and by the efforts of helpful but spying concierge (played empathetically by Mark Straker) in the "official" Government hotel.

Fellow guest Mrs Audrey Francis (Sheila Ruskin) is charming as the Labour supporter sent to tour Russia and bring back news of successful socialism - and struggling to see past the squeaky clean government tours. Both their eyes are opened to the grittier side of communism when quick-witted Russian girl Irma (Holly Morgan) takes them on the unofficial tour.

Comic touches - from Brendan's hidden jewel pouch to his sarcastic exchanges with Anton - go down very well but there's also thoughtful probing of big ideas in Luck Penny. Brendan's own doubts about idealism chime with hints of communism's failings and when he wonders how his compatriots could kill in the Irish civil war, he asks tellingly: "How can you kill over a stupid oath?"

Director Cherry Cookson does well to enliven what feels like a spiced up radio format - most scenes are seated or stationary - and there was one too many stumble over lines from actors perhaps overly used to screen acting. A few touch-and-go Rusky accents aside this is enjoyable, light fare which should go down well with the Radio 4 crowd.

- Vicky Ellis