Reviews: Peggy For You
|Claudia McKelvey as Peggy Ramsay|
So it was that we entered the auditorium to be confronted with a gloriously cluttered split-level set representing the offices of Peggy Ramsay, Literary Agent. I must at once commend all the tech crew at COPS for the overall impression this gave. It told us straight away that here were relatively poky offices belonging to a very busy yet thoroughly disorganised woman. Files were scattered over every available surface, and where this was exhausted over the floor too. I felt the right note of general shabbiness had been achieved, and despite much effort I failed to spot anything anachronistic, décor included, in a very 'busy' set. Well done indeed.
I wondered early on whether the narrow stairs separating the upper and lower acting areas would cause the cast difficulties. My fears were allayed as it became apparent that all the cast were well acquainted with the set and how to use it. This is an important feature of amateur theatre that is often overlooked and can result in cast only being able to rehearse on the 'real' set a week or two before performances start.
|Roz Saint-Clare & Andy Kirtley|
Peggy was played by Claudia McKelvey, and what a tour de force this actress brought to the part. On stage virtually throughout, and with a very wordy part to learn, she brought the essence of her character to life. Although portraying an early irritability, we learn that this was perhaps excusable given that she had been up half the night getting a client out of police custody, and putting up the bail herself. Hence she starts a new day already half exhausted having caught a few hours' nap on the office sofa. As the day gets into gear we are introduced to a succession of characters whose fortune (or misfortune?) it has been to cross Peggy's threshold. First we encounter the shy Simon, whose first ever play is scheduled for its world premiere that evening in a room above a North London pub. At first I was uncertain about the casting of Mark James in this role, as somehow he didn't seem quite 'right' for the character we learnt about. However he turned the part into a lovely humorous character role, not least by use of some astute facial expressions and an air of frequent bewilderment. Simon never seemed to know exactly where he stood where Peggy was concerned, as although she gave him a lot of her time, she was usually so busy doing other things that he rarely got the attention he needed.
|Matt Francis & Mark James|
As the first act draws to a close and the second begins, we see the hard, cynical side of Peggy nakedly exposed. For we hear that the writer she had got released from jail has committed suicide: news she appears to absorb without concern, without remorse. Claudia McKelvey handled this transition well, and showed us as one of her clients puts it "you're impossible!" She retorts "Who wants to be possible?" She certainly didn't appear to want to be seen to be caring, and yet as the newspaper editors ring for stories on the suicide, and ask for obituaries, it is to Henry she turns for the well-paid task of writing these. The fifth member of the cast played by Ros Saint Clare was Tessa, Peggy's secretary cum factotum cum organiser. It must have taken a very special kind of person indeed to work for Peggy for long, and whether this character was Plater's own concoction or an amalgam of various real life characters I do not know. Ros gave us a character who was usually in control of far more than Peggy ever managed whilst neatly portraying the young 60's era Girl Friday. Similarly, Plater more than likely drew upon real characters whose lives Peggy Ramsay had irrevocably touched to provide the basis for the three playwrights.
Minor criticisms seem churlish. Why do two people struggle to carry a small square of carpet a few feet when one lifted it effortlessly a little earlier? was one note I made. But all in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of good theatre, ably directed by Barry Lee and assisted throughout by seamless backstage work. Peggy herself, I am sure, would have been touched by Alan Plater's fond tribute to a remarkable woman.
Review: Bob Sage
Photographer: Steve Beeston