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Ivy & Joan

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Publisher turns playwright. Is that the same as gamekeeper turns poacher? Anyway, James Hogan of Oberon Books has written a deft little double-bill in which Lynne Miller, WPC Cathy Marshall in The Bill, plays Ivy, a hotel barmaid leaving her job, and Joan, a Sunday painter, leaving Venice for a psychiatric hospital back home.

In both instances, the Alan Bennett-style talking head - a slightly embittered Lancashire pseudo-snob (the hotel pianist’s not a patch on Russ Conway), and a disappointed artistic wife in a dead marriage - has a suitcase packed, ready to go, and a cowed male companion.

Steven Beard - neat, dapper, discreet - plays both foils, doing some excellent listening and looking out of windows. In the first, he's a hotel employee studying the racing form while Ivy witters on about the young "tart" who's replaced her in the cocktail bar; in the second, a long-suffering spouse and unemployed church warden who tips over the edge when Joan does the same thing to an empty wine glass.

The sadness and intimacy of Simon Usher's production is enforced by the Spartan design of Carmen Mueck in the Print Room's new upstairs Balcony space, where two dozen customers are squashed onto five raised benches, each place marked with a very welcome hot water bottle. It's a first in fringe élitism: hottie-botties for the hoity-toity.

And on the middle level between the main studio (where an aquatic dance show opens in early February) and the new eyrie, artistic director Anda Winters has opened a chic little piano bar serving (on opening night at least) nibbles and fizzy wine. Positively Parisian, my dear.

Meanwhile, back on the stage, Lynne Miller gives two beautifully weighted, well contrasted performances of growing old with disappointment, and Hogan - who's had plays performed before, but long ago, on the fringe - proves he's a dab hand with miniatures.

I wonder, though, did he turn himself down for publication? Oberon usually knows a bank where the wild thyme grows, but in this instance the plays are printed by Samuel French Ltd.


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