Friday, 11 March 2011

No Loss, Joe Loss – The Lowry, Salford

Writer: Christine Marshall
Director: Colin Muir
Reviewer: Jo Beggs

After 30 years married to the hapless Frank (Stephen Tomlin), Mona (Meriel Schofield) has reached the end of her patience, and of her sanity. Hospitalised and put through endless therapy sessions she manages to pull through and get the piece of paper that says she’s sane. But what she comes home to is enough to make her turn right round and head back to the relative peace and quiet of the psychiatric hospital. Frank’s mother, Lillian (Jacqueline Pilton) suffers a stroke, and because of the prospect of an MRSA riddled ward, comes ‘home’ to be cared for by Mona.

Labelled a comedy drama there’s few laughs unless you count the moments of silliness that Mona allows herself just to get through the day. Tending to the every need of the spiteful old woman, Mona’s mental health starts veering back downwards. Something has to give.

And what gives is the veneer of normal family life. Secrets and horrible truths start to seep out, all the bitterness that has been held in over the years. It starts with accounts of petty irritations and builds to reveal a lifetime of unspoken misery and terrible abuse.

No Loss, Joe Loss tackles some tough, emotional subjects head on. It should shock and move, but it’s such a clumsy, overlong piece of writing that it fails to affect at all. The characters are hateful and fail to ignite any sense of empathy, as they dramatically reveal their long held secrets, revelations fall flat. It really is hard to care.

Two members of the cast do put in credible performances considering they have almost nothing to work with. Meriel Schofield is best in monologue scenes early on, bringing a painful, muddling through sort of humour to a woman who’s really spiralling out of control. Jacqueline Pilton as Lillian is suitably acidic and matriarchal in Act One and frighteningly senile in Act Two. There’s a plausible bond between the two women underpinned by rivalry, guilt and Mona’s urge to nurture. It's a shame the hard work they’ve put into this production isn’t matched by either the writing or the performances from the rest of the cast.

Frank delivers profanity and Shakespeare in the same tired tone. He’s an ordinary man bent on bettering himself. But it’s unbelievable that Mona would have stuck marriage out this long with such an ignorant and unlikeable man, and, having got her groove back and finally bundled the old lady off to spend the rest of her days in a hospital, even more unlikely she’d stay. Stephen Tomlin’s lacklustre performance doesn’t help, his mumbling delivery and accent make some parts of the script hard to follow. Not that it’s worth the effort to translate.

Rachel Priest as their transsexual son David/Danni and Louise Nulty as Mona’s psychiatrist (and in a particularly irritating scene, a mock-judge) do nothing to expand their one-dimensional, and, in Nulty’s case, nauseating characters.

The whole thing is a waste of what could be a credible and moving domestic drama. Marshall had something promising and has completely lost control of it. No Loss, Joe Loss is a wearisome, seriously flawed production with little to redeem it.

Runs until the 12th March 2011
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