This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
An unexpected visit late in the evening disrupts the ballroom dancing and retired life of Joe and Ellie. While Ellie, played by Maureen Lipman, is away at her sister’s, Joe’s brother Billy arrives at their New York home with a twelve course Chinese meal, having disappeared without a trace thirty years ago. An encounter with an ex-prison guard during Billy’s holiday in Daytona now brings him to New York. Set in the 1980s in a modest apartment, the agenda for the visit begins to unfold, slowly revealing their past as Jewish immigrants from Europe after the second world war.
Written by Oliver Cotton who also plays Billy, this three-hander meanders with much scene setting but lacks purpose and point. There are elements of suspense and mystery that take too long for any intrigue or interest to be established. Hints of the morality of revenge on war crimes committed and vague musings of old age and its purpose are mentioned but not discussed in any detail. Worse still are the extended monologues, by Cotton in the first act and Lipman in the second, written in a manner of second-rate holiday paperback fiction which significantly undermines the main plot. So much so it disengages one’s concentration, and that is never a good thing in theatre.
The scene setting and nostalgia hinder the plot development and become repetitive. Towards the end, the play becomes a farcical mess filled with convoluted and unstructured arguments. There is plenty of potential for a moving conclusion but sadly it is difficult to care. The involvement of Maureen Lipman seems to be wasted by the quality of the play and her voice seems to be lost in the space of Richmond Theatre as she struggles to do her best with the ambivalence of the love triangle. Oliver Cotton is a better actor than he is a writer and captures a manic and scatty demeanour after his trauma in Daytona. Harry Shearer as Joe takes a laid back and gentle approach to the whole situation and barely betrays any deeper feelings.
The distant 80s New York skyline in the background belies the sentimentality and it cannot be helped but feel it is written with a specific audience in mind. Subjects of regrets on love lost, history and ballroom dancing, and the pacing of the show make for an inert and pedestrian play.