THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
It’s that Skype ring tone that does it, that sound of lockdown which makes you want to scream. It will be the sound of 2020.
This is a one act solo piece, first done by HighTide theatre company, which has been transformed into a series of Skype calls by Donmar director Michael Longhurst. It’s Alan Bennett for the Zoom age and is graced with a deeply poignant but totally full-blooded central performance from the great Diana Quick.
These are actually a series of video messages as the calls are not being answered. Each call gets more insistent as Judy, a comfortably retired middle-class Islington mother, tries desperately to get her daughter Helen to respond to her. They had a row over Christmas, and she is now being given the silent treatment. We see why Judy’s smothering motherlove would be too much for her young campaigning daughter, who, it turns out, is in Hebron providing relief to the Palestinians. Helen shows no sign of responding.
Quick, one of our most underrated actors, delineates each call beautifully and brings layers of subtlety to the many shades and moods of this woman. One minute she’s a vulnerable lonely empty-nester, the next a formidable political activist. Some calls are alcohol fuelled, some desperately lonely, some are trying to be chirpy, some are reprimanding, and the incredibly sad penultimate call ends in an ultimatum.
Judy fills her time with the local Labour Party and chairing WILF (the Women’s International League for Freedom) and must fight off a “tea shop putsch” from a conniving rival. There’s a newly arrived Afghan refugee to be looked after who is soon drowning in invitations to Islington dinner parties. When he finally does arrive, hilariously, his politics disappoint. Brace is great on the competitive do-gooding of this set but he never resorts to ridicule.
It’s set in 2010 and so reflects the politics of the time and the expectations of a general election. All that now seems like another planet.
Longhurst has transformed this piece brilliantly because it’s now about the cursed Skype calls but more importantly, and the reason it won’t date, is that it’s about the eternal struggle between well-meaning, over bearing parents and their seemingly ungrateful offspring, who will never understand their parents until, perhaps, they have ungrateful 20somethings of their own.