Chris Eldon Lee reviews “Seeing The Lights”, which is at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle Under Lyme until Saturday 3rd October.
Being a Lancashire Lad, I have, of course, seen ‘The Lights’. At the age of eight I was bundled into the back of the family’s first car to join the long slow procession up and down Blackpool Promenade, dodging trams lit up as steam engines and Mississippi river boats. The images are still there … and this play will stay in my mind for a long time too.
I can also recall the very first episode of ‘Coronation Street’, seen on our flickering black and white tele. The whole of Manchester seemed to be holding its breath; waiting to see how we would be portrayed to the rest of the nation. But the quality of the characterisation was so good, we were enthralled. And the same is more than true of this play.
We’re “Oooop North”; and mother wants to celebrate her 80th birthday by seeing The Lights for the last time. It’s a simple request…which opens up can after can of jellied worms. Brendan Murray’s writing is superb throughout, with exocets of brilliant humour that prove that sarcasm is far from the lowest form of wit.
He surfs a few Soap subjects along the way – homosexuality and child abuse pop in to say ‘hello’ – but his key issue of ‘what to do with an aging mum?’ is handled with such compassion and authenticity, hairs were standing up all round the stalls.
It’s such a familiar scenario. Terry is a male nurse who has declined promotion to care for mum at home. His siblings are obvious by the absence. But when his sister comes home for the party, the fur really flies. Marion has married a Muslim and embraced Islam. She is the domineering daughter her mother never wanted and, from her position of complete ignorance, tries to lay down the law about ‘what must be done about mum’; before beggaring off again.
And she is an innovation in British Theatre. Smothered as we are by political correctness, Brendan Murray has bravely painted a portrait of a wholly unpleasant, born-again Muslim who puts dogma before duty. It’s a remarkably written character; an unholy conjunction of cobbles and Koran. I was seething at how she blatantly badgered everybody with her own unfounded suspicions, whilst hiding behind her protecting veil.
I take my hat of to Brendan for writing her and to Connie Walker for playing her so perfectly…dropping deft hints along the way as to why she was like that. Pay attention. You need to pick them up.
Anna Kirke is pure ‘Coronation Street’ as mum; nicely crotchety and sharply spirited. Murray bequeaths her his best lines and she delivers them with barely concealed joy. Playing scrabble with her Muslim son-in-law (portrayed by the patient Oliver Gatz), she objects to him using the names of Asian foods…and then trumps him by adding an ‘S’. How loveably annoying is that!
George Potts also shines as her son Terry, the voice of reason. “The only way mum will leave this house is feet first with brass handles.” He shoulders the central issue of the play and keeps us on track with his ability to be witty about such heavy matters. Anyone who has ever cared for someone could take him on as a true role model. Here is another excellently drawn, fully rounded character…unfazed by having to help with his mother’s ablutions.
All in all, this is top class, entertaining and thoughtful stuff – and well worth missing ‘Corrie’ for.
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Photo : Andrew Billington
Connie Walker as Muna/Marion and George Potts as Terry