Fringe / Entertaining Angels

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The Independent Culture
Entertaining AngelsLike the man said, they sure do fuck you up, your Mum and Dad. And Nicola McCartney and Lucy McLellan's new large-scale work for their own Lookout Theatre Company hammers the point home via what attempts to be a quasi-Socratic dialogue between the twin spires of belief - old-time Papism versus meat-and-two-veg socialism. Rooted firmly in a working-class Liverpool backdrop, it's less obviously philosophical than you might think. Earth mother and trade unionist father - poles apart but too alike to last - build a home only to smash it up, one effectively "killing off" the other, consigning them to a purgatory of memory and myth embodied in the stagnant mess of a family who must make meaning out of the wreckage. But when the past comes calling - in the shape of both a prodigal older daughter made good and a bearer of good (or bad) tidings - bulimic, stonehead and lapsed revolutionary alike are forced to face the truth.

The play unwraps itself through a series of flashbacks that fold in on themselves, as old ghosts refuse to be shut out any longer. There's nothing new being said here, and what is said takes too long. The play actually comes across as old-fashioned in form as well as content, like a splintered late-Nineties update of Arnold Wesker's Chicken Soup with Barley, which also dealt with the timeless contradiction between family values and radical thought. Its continual bickering across the generations is reminiscent, too, of the kitchen-sink clatter of a mid-Seventies Play for Today, or even Till Death Us Do Part, with head of the family, Eric, a more benevolent Alf Garnett figure. It's actually this innate understanding of domestic strife that is the play's strongest point. Even the cheap emotional trick at the end works (just), largely because it's done without a hint of irony.

A fine central performance from Astrid Azurdia as the eldest daughter gives the play its backbone, yet for all its depth, there's simply too much on offer. McCartney, who also directs, and McLellan, who plays the mother, perhaps wear too many hats to be objective about the script's bulk. If there's any salvation on offer, and there has to be in what essentially aims to be popular drama, it's through the galvanising influence Cousin Daniel's metaphorical raising of the dead brings to each of the characters' lives. They have a future now. They have hope. It might not last, but it's something.

n Traverse Theatre, Aug 20-31, various times