By a strange twist of fate, David Hare's Amy's View played at COPs the very week of Lady Thatcher's funeral. Not only did the play take us back to the Thatcher years for its setting but indeed on one level recreated only too vividly the social mores of that period in our history.
This story of a dysfunctional family dissects the effects of Amy's fateful choice of a husband as she is torn apart by the enormous egos of her mother and her husband. Moreover, as the play develops, her choice appears to have been even more wilful as we learn of her prior knowledge of Dan's darker side.
The play started in an arresting manner with Dan's painstaking efforts to mend a bicycle puncture in the drawing room, a task accomplished with skill by Andy Lee. Both he and Loretta Freeman played their parts throughout with consummate skill. As the scene opened, they artfully conveyed the nervous tension beneath their banter as they awaited the arrival of Amy's mother for her first meeting with Amy's intended. On Esme's entrance, the unease which often characterises such an occasion was well handled and Shelagh Maughan quickly conveyed her underlying concern for her daughter. Personally, I should have preferred a more overtly theatrical interpretation of this role, which would have made Amy's insecurity and general attitude towards her mother more credible and reinforced the impression of a diva of the West End stage.
Indeed, at the heart of the play is the volatile relationship between mother and daughter apparent on the rare occasions when they see each other. The challenge for both actors is to convey a sense of the bond between them despite the hurt they inflict on each other. It was therefore a particular credit to Shelagh Maughan that when Esme broke her word and revealed Amy's pregnancy to Dan, not only was there a shocked reaction to her betrayal of trust from the audience but we could understand why she did it.
Likewise, after the interval, during Amy's blistering attack on her mother for her complacent attitude towards Frank, who has effectively ruined her, we could accept absolutely that this sprang from her deep care for her mother.
At her first meeting with Dan, Esme vividly conveyed her contempt for the media world and it was fascinating to witness the reversal of roles later in the play when Dan now at the top of the media ladder was being particularly boorish towards her. For him, she was simply a “has been” of the legitimate theatre reduced to playing in a soap on TV. The intensity of feeling generated in this scene was palpable only lightened a little by Ray Newton's superbly played Frank, whose fatuous complacency and incomprehension was quite breath-taking but totally believable.
The unfolding of the drama depended a great deal on the successful conveying of the passage of time between the various acts. This is less important for Esme who is already 49 when we first see her; for Amy and Dan who are in their early 20s when we first see them and late 30s by the end of the play, the aging process is vital and both actors gave wholly convincing portrayals of characters at different stages of their life journeys. This process was given added pathos by the unobtrusive playing of Evelyn (Maggie Box) as she declined from genteel retirement through Alzheimers to dementia.
In the final scene when Dan and Esme are edging towards some kind of reconciliation, the engaging innocence of Toby (James Upton) in the presence of 2 “greats” gave us a glimmer of hope that Amy's view that “everyone should get on” might survive after all.
Indeed as always with David Hare, the personal drama is designed to set us thinking about wider issues, such as the challenge to traditional drama by the pervasive claims of the media and the challenging of the comfortable assumptions of Middle England (in this case Pangbourne) by the younger generation; the unbridled greed that led to the debacle at Lloyd's has unfortunate resonance in our own times of banking crises.
As we filed rather soberly out of the theatre, I reflected that a strong production had given us plenty to ponder. I doubt whether the Iron Lady would have enjoyed it - but then that's what David Hare would have wanted - isn't it?
Reviewed by Cliff Greely. Photographs by Steve Beeston.