Oldham Coliseum Company
January 31 2019 to February 9, 2019
I suppose it is possible that any actor of a certain age could potentially do justice to Jimmie Chinn's Alan Bennett-like monologues, but there is no denying that it takes a northern voice to work them properly.
To my dismay I didn't catch the late Roy Barraclough's performance in the premiere of this moving, sentimental comedy when it was first seen at the Coliseum in 1998 - and by "premiere", I mean of the full-length play, since Middleton-born Chinn's work had already been around for some years as act one alone. This version remains one of the Coliseum's most popular productions of recent history.
The second act, written for that 1998 production, never seems tacked on but is a clear flipside look at sibling estrangement and bitterness. Act one is told from possibly closet homosexual Leslie's point of view - lonely, lives with his mother, rather bitter about his sister, and so on, while act two tells it from guilt-ridden sister Maureen's viewpoint, on the day of Leslie's funeral.
I can't honestly believe the evening then was vastly different than the treat on show now, deserving of its "Kenneth comes home" standing ovation at the curtain. Taylor won a best actor award for his last performance here, in "The Father" in 2017, and it seems fairly clear he would have been in the running once again with this pair of performances.
It really is one of those plays, here directed by actress and director Noreen Kershaw with deep northern affection, that it is hard to dislike.
There is a charming set-up - ripe for a master performer to work some magic; an unusual composition, being two monologues; tricky technical demands, in that the performer must play both a brother and his sister in late middle-age. Plus the local expressions and comic bite from choice lines - two in the second act in particular that require, and here receive, masterful comic timing.
Like Barraclough, Taylor is no stranger to appearing on stage in women's clothes, but of course the demand this time is not for a panto dame but a living, breathing, guilt-ridden woman. This is tougher to pull off than act one, since the second half is written with more laughs and comic feminine vindictiveness, and it would be easier to make the comedy too broad.
Taylor steers through it with great skill, smoking, emoting and sneering his way - comically, but with an edge that reveals the guilt not far under the surface.
The evening is played out on a beautifully dated and cluttered set (by the same designer as last time, Celia Perkins), and it might be a good idea to brave the cold sooner rather than later, since the play is on only until next weekend.