Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Maine Road - Monkeywood Theatre, 24/7 Festival Manchester

Maine Road
Writer: Sarah McDonald Hughes
Director: Martin Gibbons
Reviewer: John Roberts

Promising a Story of Football, Family, Bricks and Mortar, Monkeywood Theatre have managed to pull in a good crowd for their lunchtime performance. Is this clever marketing selling a show on the back of a cultural icon and a location that many Mancunians hold close to their hearts...my honest answer is yes as the football element is so small in this production it is almost nothing more than just an anchor to develop this beautifully written family drama.

Sarah McDonald Hughes has already received critical acclaim for Maine Road, which was shortlisted for the Alfred Bradley Bursary Award the most acclaimed radio prize in the UK and one that also got her a one year mentorship with the BBC.

McDonald Hughes has had several commissions as a writer for several Theatre in Education companies and it is clear to see why, she has weaved together a slick piece of writing that tackles some of the themes that most teens go through and whilst watching it is hard not to imagine this piece doing extremely well in the schools touring market.

Telling the story of Leo whose life is slowly falling apart, his beloved Maine Road is only a few days away from having its last match, his Nan has died, his dad is more interested in spending time at the pub, and his Mum is absent through her grief of losing her mother, but all is not lost as loving older sister Jade is there to pull him through.

McDonald Hughes as well as writing also plays Jade and is well cast in this role, suitably being hard and sympathetic in order to get her family to function in any way possible that resembles some sense of normality. Daniel Fitsimons is also well cast as Leo its very easy to over play a charcter that is younger than you, but Fitsimons handles this with the maturity of an actor of many more years experience and gives a heartfelt performance.

Marie Critchley also provides a strong central performance as Elaine the mother who is falling to pieces trying to cope with the loss of her mother. One would have liked to have seen the role of Clive (the father) developed more into the storyline but Tomas Aldersley gives a stunningly brutal performance. Francesca Waite is also strong in her small cameo as Donna.

Maine Road flows with swift and smooth direction by Martin Gibbons and never lacks the punch or pace that a piece like this can come up against. A well written and performed production but I feel this piece would be better received and much more at home in the educational theatre market than the mainstream.
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