Annie & Fanny from Bolton to Rome
There are full houses in Oldham to celebrate 60 years of the Rep, now named the Coliseum. Off and on, Kenneth Alan Taylor has been actor, director and now Chief Executive for more than half that time, and here he directs Roy Barraclough, who has come back up the hill from Coronation Street to the stage he first trod in 1966.
Familiarity can breed nostalgia, and Jimmie Chinn's new play, , at first trades in both. Leslie is a 60-ish bachelor who has lived all his life in the terraced house precisely realised by designer Celia Perkins as having been freeze-dried 30 or so years ago. We are the rare visitor he's glad he bumped into, and in the course of a chat detailing his shopping routes and preferences in biscuits, we gather his side of the family life focused on the Christmas Eve his mother died. Apparently mild and unassuming, anxious never to be "in the way", Leslie seems pathetic but modestly philosophical, save for the animus towards his sister Maureen, neglectful and snobbish since she took a Jewish husband.
In the second half, Barraclough transvests into Maureen, and, teaspoon by teaspoon, the cosiness of this gas-fire familiarity chills as Maureen lets slip her own long sense of a rejection that became outright, if still never properly spoken, upon her marriage. What have appeared comic, sad, but harmless lives, are seen to have been blighted by suppressed resentment and destructive fears.
Chinn's writing is good at letting the gall seep in guarded droplets from between the appearances his characters keep up, not least for themselves. None the less, and despite Roy Barraclough's virtuosity, the play does not escape the limitations of the talking-head format. Rather than their confidant, I would rather have been the spectator of Leslie and Maureen's interaction.
Arriving from Bolton, Annie Briggs's considered opinion of Rome is that "a lot of thought's gone into it". A substantial body, Annie is big on opinions, and on considering, especially in summer when she goes considering across Europe on a two-week coach tour. In Sue Cleaver's portrayal, she's a wonderful type, stitched into Lancashire, until the Horwich Tabernacle pronounces kingdom come, yet curious and dauntless in foreign fields. So, too, is her good companion Fanny, played by Maggie Norris as a predatory pullet, in aspect, at least, if no longer, alas, in age. There's nowt wrong with being a spinster - in Bolton. But when in Monte Carlo, Rapallo or Rome, you are looking to "come over all unnecessary".
Such are the key characters of Bill Naughton's Annie and Fanny from Bolton to Rome, the play whose premiere opened the Bolton Octagon just 30 years ago. Played in celebratory mood by a cast in which Nicola Wheeler also stands out, it is an affectionate comedy rich in self-satire, harmless sentimentality and a soupcon of self-satisfaction. It may be charter flights to Orlando now, but the nostalgia trip was enjoyably recognised by a full house last Thursday, including my companion, who herself had made Annie and Fanny's trip - in reverse.
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