Friday, 29 March 2013

Theatre review: I Didn't Always Live Here

Among its many other strengths, the Finborough Theatre is increasingly punching above its weight with its set designs, coming close to challenging the Gate for how ambitiously you can transform a seemingly restrictive space. This time, resident designer Alex Marker has managed to fit two storeys of a Glasgow tenement into a room above a pub. Written in 1974 and receiving its first revival since 1973, Stewart Conn's memory play I Didn't Always Live Here looks at two elderly women in adjoining flats, but focusing in particular on the lovable, bubbly Martha (Jenny Lee.) Housebound by her arthritis, and with only the occasional visit from a community volunteer (a beehived Alice Haig) and the local minister (Joshua Manning,) Martha spends much of her time talking to her pet budgie.

Next door her neighbour Amie (Eileen Nicholas) is anticipating getting moved to a newly-built flat down the road, but doesn't seem to be getting any news about it - nor from the relatives she's hoping will help her move. Though more mobile than Martha, Amie's tendency to rub people up the wrong way has left her as isolated as her neighbour.


Conn's play looks at vulnerable older people who have been all but forgotten, most obviously in the badly damaged roof that's causing the damp in Martha's flat to exacerbate her arthritis; and feels like a story that sadly remains relevant away from the 1960s setting. Martha frequently reminisces to her budgie about when she and her late husband Jack (Carl Prekopp) lived in the apartment together in flashbacks spanning from the Depression to after World War II, which Jack spent taking his Home Guard duties very seriously as a way of feeling connected to their son out in Burma. When the son dies days before the end of the War, Jack is sent into a depression he never quite leaves behind.


Lisa Blair directs with a sure touch and her cast are great at telling a story that looks at sad ends to difficult lives but never becomes maudlin, with many lighter moments along the way: Lee is great at Martha's warm, slightly dotty sense of humour, Nicholas equally good at Amie's somewhat spikier moments of comedy (it's probably fair to say Amie's not a dog person.) The show looks great, is movingly written and performed, but there's a lack of impetus to the story that isn't a major problem, but doesn't really help make it a play that stands out. The revival is touching, a quality piece of theatre, but there's a lack of any real uniqueness to Conn's play that may explain why it's spent so long off the radar.

I Didn't Always Live Here by Stewart Conn is booking until the 20th of April at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours including interval.

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