Goodbye to All That, Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, London


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The Independent Culture

Talk about a striking case of "Snap!". To be seen at the Royal Court now - on both the mainstage and in the Theatre Upstairs - is the spectacle of a helpless ageing man in a bed, hooked up to things like saline drips and catheters, and flanked by two women who are warring because of him.

David Eldridge's excellent In Basildon, recently reviewed here, is the downstairs attraction.  Now, as the remarkably talented opening shot of  this year's "Young Writers' Festival" up in the studio space, we have Luke Norris's Goodbye to All That, a fiercely funny and astutely upsetting piece which Simon Godwin's beautifully acted and brilliantly paced production does proud. 

We're even in Essex in both plays.  But rather than constituting a clash, these (presumably consciously paired) dramas prove to be complementary in richly satisfying ways.  In the Eldridge, the women are sisters long-estranged on account of money and inherited property.

In the Norris, the dowdy Iris (whose mix of grimly determined possessiveness and bleak defeatism are superlatively conveyed by Susan Brown) is rushed into a hostile intimacy with the smarter, more well-heeled widow Rita (whose vulnerability is touchingly evoked by Linda Marlowe). Septuaginarian Frank (Roger Sloman) has decided to leave Iris, his wife of forty five years, for the latter.  But on the night he is about to make the momentous move, he has a massive stroke, at first mistaken for drunkenness.  Which of these women has the greater right to look after this incapacitated husk?  It's a question complicated by the fact that Rita's wealth could pay for the private care home he needs.  

The early scenes pitch you in what is precipitated when David (Alexander Cobb) the old couple's sulky, reproving and almost-undergraduate grandson (the progeny of a daughter who committed suicide) finds out about the affair.  They are fuelled by bitterly amusing dialogue that has a pinch of Pinter in its aggressive proddings and repetitions and a real ear for the way the existentially profound pokes through people's verbal gropings.  When Frank tells Rita he doesn't love her, Rita puffs and gapes with scorn at the irrelevance (to her now) of the word "love".  "We've got a life - we've given - there's people exist because of us".  Or did once.  And Norris is equally good at pointed plot development.  Nat King Cole's song is  "Illusion" is first heard as romantic dance music; the second time as cruel irony. 

A terrific debut.

To 17 March

Box office: 020 7565 5000