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You Can Always Hand Them Back – Mercury Theatre, Colchester

Writer: Roger Hall

Music and Lyrics: Peter Skellern

Director: Andrew Breakwell

Reviewer: Michael Gray

We are a grandfather … so this UK première of Roger Hall’s soft-centred show about growing old and grandchildren was certain to hit the spot.

It’s almost as if a focus group had come up with all those Third Age clichés: dodgy knees, deafness, technophobia, Christmas crises, Skyping across the world, infant artwork on the fridge, a sideboard, even a stairlift – Stannah have supported this Colchester production.

In Andrew Breakwell’s delightful production a single set does duty as the family home and Hillcrest retirement village. There’s a grand piano, too, not only for the family photographs but also for the Musical Director, Stefan Bednarczyk, who does a nice line in Cowardish singing and Brechtian interventions, as well as accompanying the grandparents in Peter Skellern’s songs.

There’s a lot of schmaltz and sentiment in this gentle score – the best of this is the wistful Sunrise Sunset moment at the top of Act Two (They Grow Up So Quickly), reprised at the end, when the years have caught up with Kath and Maurice, who says a fond goodbye to his grandchildren before taking that last stairlift to heaven …

Happily there are one or two lively, sharper numbers, like the Twice A Night Tinkle Tango (don’t ask)and Don’t Let The Little Bastard Get Away, which cleverly imagines the bathtime/bedtime routine as a fitness workout.

The grandchildren are all invisible, left to mime and our imagination. There are some stereotypes here (football for Sugar Rush Leonard, ballet for his sister, just as it’s golf for grandad and book group for grandma). But at least there’s asthmatic, wussy Ollie, who brings along his Glee DVDs and ends up starring as Pharoah and Bloody Mary – we could have used his Happy Talk as an encore at the end of this somewhat depressing look at what the future has in store for the baby-sitting generation.

Lovely characters from two seasoned performers: Kate Dyson is Kath, delighting in her new rôle as grandmother, showing the photos (“They’re not interested!” protests Maurice), and finally, Maurice gone, moving in to the annexe to be useful once more. Her rôle considerably enlivened by the glitterball Act One finale – I Still Got It Honey – where she struts her stuff on the work surface. Paul Greenwood plays Maurice, subtly ageing from the sprightly pram-pusher to the shuffling depressive confined to his favourite armchair.

All very nicely done; the audience chuckled away as boxes were ticked and funny bones tickled. But ultimately a little bland, a little shallow – one longed for something edgier, more acerbic, such as might have been penned by David Nobbs or Sue Townsend …

Writer: Roger Hall Music and Lyrics: Peter Skellern Director: Andrew Breakwell Reviewer: Michael Gray We are a grandfather … so this UK première of Roger Hall's soft-centred show about growing old and grandchildren was certain to hit the spot. It's almost as if a focus group had come up with all those Third Age clichés: dodgy knees, deafness, technophobia, Christmas crises, Skyping across the world, infant artwork on the fridge, a sideboard, even a stairlift – Stannah have supported this Colchester production. In Andrew Breakwell's delightful production a single set does duty as the family home and Hillcrest retirement village.…

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