Smaller, Lyric, London

Slap-happy families
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The Independent Culture

Gallingly, she also praises her absentee daughter to the skies. Bernice is at her beck and call, devoted but bored rigid, barely listening then becoming sarcastic and ultimately irate. She ends up wildly brandishing the phone directory and dialing the nearest old folk's home, while the aged parent stubbornly refuses to be helped off the loo and calls her a "fat fucker".

This is Morgan's first stage play, specifically commissioned for French and Moyet, and directed by Kathy Burke. She has hitherto written for TV, serving her apprenticeship on The Royle Family and regularly scripting Coronation Street.

Theatrically, Smaller does have its weaknesses. For most of the evening, one assumes Moyet can't act because she is only glimpsed performing musical numbers between French and Watson's scenes. These songs, including some newly penned by the singer, are pleasantly bluesy but awkwardly unintegrated. That said, her send-up of Robbie Williams - shimmying in the chicken suit - is quirkily hilarious.

The wittering of Maureen and the dry ripostes of Bernice can, in turn, seem like an extended comic sketch. It becomes repetitive. But again, that is partly the point and, in any case, French's deadpan delivery is priceless and sharply observed, muttered over stacks of marking. She is a genius at capturing the frustrations of playing second fiddle.

Moreover, I've never seen such a graphically truthful as well as amusing portrayal of home care on stage, right down to the rubber gloves in the bathroom. There are startlingly poignant moments too, when you realise that Maureen is suffering a constant nagging pain and when she apologises for being no picnic. The closing scenes - where Cath finally shows up, too late to help, and the siblings struggle to cope with their mother's death - are also seriously angry and grief-stricken. Moyet proves she can act after all, and French goes into a new gear impressively too. Come the close, then, this is actually a remarkably winning and touching piece of popular entertainment.

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

To 6 May, 0870 890 1107

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