Finborough Theatre, London SW10
Stewart Permutt is a dramatist who writes with compassion but without the baggage of sentimentality. The people who populate his plays are more likely to reveal disappointment than hope. Yet they win you over, not by appealing to your sympathy but by revealing their humanity.
It is a quality I missed in Permutt’s latest offering, set partly in a Jewish old-age home in Hendon where Miriam Karlin’s wheelchair-bound Stella is nursed by Elizabeth Uter’s hijab-wearing Muslim carer Sadia, a Somalian refugee.
Karlin’s performance is disturbingly well observed, her confused and agitated Stella soothed to lucidity by Uter’s caring Sadia. But less convincing are the two gay relationships with which Permutt explores his themes of living with disappointment and the fear of loneliness.
Stella’s daughter, Helen (Gillian Hanna), an unfulfilled musician, is trapped in a relationship with the relentlessly bullying Avril (Amanda Boxer), a jobless radio producer, and Helen’s 55-year-old boss Martin (Daniel Hill). The owner of a failed travel business, Martin hooks up with Leo, a much younger, rough diamond who turns out to be George, the assistant head overseeing Stella’s care.
It is a coincidence that comes across as contrivance in Anthony Biggs’s production, which is hampered by Jason Wing’s two-dimensional Leo (too much rough, not enough diamond).
As always, Permutt admirably lays bare his characters’ faults and prejudices. But here the play leaves you with a sense that instead of deserving better, they deserve each other. (Tel: 0844 847 1652)