Sydney & the Old Girl is a refreshing breath of foul air, a dark comedy with deeply unpleasant characters which manages to echo Pinter and Joe Orton in its macabre domestic antagonism.
Miriam Margolyes owns the stage from her wheelchair as Nell, a cantankerous East End pensioner who trusts no-one and finds her dependence on others mortally frustrating. Her containment of rage, and its release in a stream of dexterous and inventive filth is both a delight and a challenge to watch, because it seems so authentic.
Margolyes is matched in performance by the excellent Mark Hadfield as Sydney. Hadfield is an expert at playing loners and misfits and here inhabits a miserly, virginal middle-aged man forced against his will to care for a mother for whom he has nothing but contempt, but from whom he stands to inherit some savings.
Sydney’s paranoia about every passing Doppler-effect siren from police car or ambulance masks a dark secret, and when Nell considers leaving her cash to a charity favoured by the cheerful and kindly Irish home help — lovely work by Vivien Parry — he is impelled to plot her downfall.
The rivalry between a scheming mother and a moodily withdrawn son is nothing new — Shakespeare did it with Hamlet in 1603 — but the intensity with which the realistic setting drives it home makes this terribly watchable.
The realism is heightened by Max Jones and Ruth Hall’s dismally accurate design for Nell’s flat from the mismatched florals of carpet and wallpaper, to the worn gate-leg dining table, surface-mounted stained electrical sockets and uncleaned kitchen tiles: nothing is overlooked.
Writer Eugene O’Hare scored a deserved success last year with The Weatherman, a fascinating insight into the Met Office predictive planning for D-Day and a triumph for David Haig. Sydney and the Old Girl cements O’Hare’s position as a contemporary writer to watch.
And Margolyes is just a fabulous old bag.
Sydney & the Old Girl, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, N4. Tickets £18.50-32.50, until 30 November 2019.
Last Updated 06 November 2019