Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Pitlochry
MARK FISHER reckons Pitlochry’s new production of Liz Lochhead’s play betters the original.
IT’S RARE enough to see a second staging of a recent Scottish play, but Pitlochry Festival Theatre is earning a reputation not only for championing such work, but for doing it better than the debut productions. After turning out an interpretation of Outlying Islands by David Greig last year that was superior to the Traverse Theatre premiere, the company has revived Liz Lochhead's five-year-old mid-life crisis comedy Good Things and exceeded the fine Borderline original.
This is only in part because the play is such an ideal match for the Pitlochry audience. Being a typically older crowd, they are instinctively attuned to the concerns of Lochhead's central character, Susan Love, a 49-year-old mother who has been dumped by her husband for a younger, more fertile model. Like the books and clothes in the Glasgow charity shop where she works, Susan is a "good thing" that nobody wants, a woman full of life, love and good humour, whose potential is going to waste.
The story Lochhead tells has a girl-meets-boy familiarity, the difference being that instead of a teenage search for romance, this is a quest belonging to an older generation; a little less intense, perhaps, but no less in earnest. Aiming for the atmosphere of feelgood Christmas movies and modelling her plot on Cinderella, the playwright fashions a wish-fulfilment fantasy that is full of the raw detail of senile parents, dying relatives and bolshie teenage daughters. It is very funny even as it acknowledges the bleak truth of our mortality.
There are weaknesses in the play, which sometimes drags under the weight of charity shop routine and Lochhead's love of a big speech, but in Ken Alexander's assured production, it is hilarious, big hearted and touching. Alan Steele and Isabelle Joss do a splendid job playing multiple characters thanks to quick changes in the wings, while Dougal Lee makes a worthy flesh-and-blood Prince Charming, a laidback widower with the gift of a pair of red shoes.
But the absolute highlight in a terrific cast is Carol Ann Crawford as Susan. Sad but not self-pitying, angry but not vicious, funny but not arrogant, she paints a humane, empathetic portrait of a woman trying to make a fresh start with all the hope, vulnerability and good cheer you could wish for in a Cinderella.
Good Things is in repertory at Pitlochry until October.
© Mark Fisher, 2009