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Thursday, 14 March 2013

Theatre Review: A Kind of Loving

A Kind of Loving, based on the 1960 novel by Stan Barstow and adapted here by John Godber, tells the story of Vic Brown (Byron Owen) and his troubled relationship with Ingrid Rothwell (Vicky Binns). At first he is infatuated with her but quickly loses interest until Ingrid drops the bombshell that she's pregnant. Vic reluctantly marries her and moves in at her mother's but tragedy soon strikes.

Probably the most vital component of this play is Byron Owen's rapport with the audience. Although the character is downright despicable at times, his direct conversations with the audience keep them almost on his side. A side-effect of Vic's charisma, though, is that the character of Ingrid fades into the background a little. Despite the fact that she is (mostly) in the right, the story is Vic's and the audience certainly identifies with him more. Ingrid comes and goes whilst Vic is onstage much of the time. In addition, the other four members of the cast take on multiple (and sometimes hilarious) roles. When I think of the most memorable scenes it's unfortunate that they include Vic alongside someone else and not Ingrid.

The staging of this works extremely well. The doors around the stage have a dual function: they allow characters to come and go quickly and the plot to jump ahead but they also impose a sense of community on the story. Frequently, there is the sense that Vic's being watched and judged as heads pop out of the doors, portraying with simplicity the tight-knit relationships in a working-class northern town in the late 1950s/1960s. Once in a while there is a dip too far in the lighting (in fairness, that could have just been where I was sitting) but it doesn't hinder the production. In fact, the lighting works very well throughout, a standout moment being the end of the first act where the back of the stage practically glows. The music utilised often certainly compliments the story and helps set the scene - any play that begins with Doris Day singing is definitely for me! Also of note are the brief set changes, comprising of bringing stools, chairs and a sofa on to the stage: these get gradually more amusing as the play goes on with Dicken Ashworth and Christine Cox as Mr and Mrs Brown particularly hilarious offenders.

As I mentioned, four versatile cast members take on thirteen roles between them. A couple of them stand out: Dicken Ashworth as music shop owner Mr Van Huyten has a thick accent but a very distinctive personality that comes across in his lines. His appearances were welcome, although at one point his line was drowned out by the music playing at the time and I was a little disappointed. Also amusing to watch were Jacky Naylor in her brief stint as Ingrid's friend, Dorothy, and Robert Hudson as Percy Walshaw.

There are three scenes which make this play worth seeing on their own and all of them are in the second act. Vic's drunken scene with Percy is nothing short of hilarious and the audience was in stitches as it progressed. Immediately following this was Vic's confrontation with his mother-in-law (Jacky Naylor) then, finally, there was Vic's discussion with his sister (also Jacky Naylor), a poignant conversation which consolidates the themes of the play.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable night out. Although the decade has changed, the themes of love, ambition and responsibility are still as important as they ever were.

A Kind of Loving runs at Theatre Royal Wakefield until Saturday 23rd March.

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