images courtesy of The Marlowe Theatre
“The rich get rich and the poor get children.”
One of the central subjects of this play can easily be summarised by the words of the main character, a middle-aged bar singer named Helen (Jodie Prenger). A woman whose need for a man’s affection overcame her maternal duties, Helen has a particular position in this play as she is not a hero nor a villain.
Moving into a new house in a poor area of Salford, Helen and her daughter Jo (Gemma Dobson) are faced with the struggles of life. Helen is portrayed as a brutal woman with a tumultuous past and a long history of seducing men. Her care for Jo, who is still in high school, is something that changes very easily and abruptly from concern to happiness, to utter disinterest. As soon as they move in, Helen’s new suitor, Peter (Tom Varey) makes an appearance; this is where we first witness Helen’s ignorance towards Jo.
Many of the character conflicts prove that their personalities and behaviours have been shaped by the society they live in, and their material conditions which determined their perspective. Even though Helen seems to be the main character, Jo is the one whose tragic fate we sympathise with and care for most. Her first relationship flourishes with a black nurse who is soon to leave for the navy. Before his leave, they spend the night together and Jo ends up being pregnant. Strangely, her pregnancy is what unites her and Helen in some way. Her absence from Jo’s life is soon to change when she learns about the baby. She starts to blame Jo for being so naïve, falling in love with a sailor whose fate is unknown and looks like he abandoned Jo. Helen continuously puts Jo down for her decisions, to which Jo replies: “I’ve always known what I want.” Helen bitterly says: “When it’ll come to you, will you recognise it then?” A statement that indicates that at times your desires come wrapped up in a different packaging than you would have hoped for.
Jo’s abandonment by her mother as well as Jimmie (Durone Stokes), her ex-boyfriend, leads to a profound friendship with Geoffrey (Stuart Thompson), a gay art student who ends up taking care of her. She is often a temperamental character longing for the return of Jimmie. In a scene where Helen returns and offers to take care of Jo because she now is wealthy enough to do so (by marrying Peter), Geoffrey askes Jo: “What kind of woman is she?” To which Jo replies: “She’s any kind of woman.” There are a certain confidence that is locked within that sentence, but in this context it becomes sorrowful. This play does a wonderful job of showing the societal boxes existent in 1958.
Without spoiling the end of this play, I must say this is one of those plays which will shake you to reality, thrill you, and make you aware of people’s struggles. It was brilliantly acted, with authentical Northern accents which (in all fairness) often made it hard to understand. The setting was innovative, including a live band always present on the stage, which gave the feeling of being in a café. It is definitely worth a watch.