PRECIOUS LITTLE TALENT
Trafalgar Studio 2, London SW1
Opened 8 April, 2011
****

Not so long ago, commercial theatre producers would occasionally take a punt on booking a West End slot for a play that had no big-name writer or actor attached to it, but simply looked like a good piece of work. Now, with even non-musical playhouses hosting ever more musicals, the best an emerging writing talent like Ella Hickson can manage is the small basement space in Trafalgar Studios: geographically it’s West End, but in terms of size and profile, some way away.
    
Hickson deserves more. She is not really edgy enough to sit four-square amongst the Royal Court’s expanding phalanx of young women writers, though her current playwriting residency at the Lyric Hammersmith may bear more succulent fruit. Precious Little Talent is her first play as such: Eight, a series of monologues, took her from a student venue on the Edinburgh Fringe to New York in 2008, and the following Fringe season I saw the first 50-minute version of this play in the same venue. Now expanded by a further half-hour, it is a simple three-hander, set over Christmas 2008. Joey travels from England to turn up unannounced at her father’s flat in New York, and is surprised to find there Sam, a young man with whom she has just had an intense (though non-sexual) evening. It is strange to find a 19-year-old man spending so much time with a 60-year-old, especially one as cantankerous as George, who is offhand, forgetful and irascible towards Joey. She comes to realise, as we have known throughout, that Sam is George’s carer, and George is deliberately trying to alienate his daughter before his early-onset dementia does it for him, far more agonisingly.
    
There is no great catastrophe, simply a three-way coming-to-terms. Olivia Hallinan could perhaps take Joey on a little more of a journey from initial uncertainty about her path in life to at least a slightly greater openness to possibility, but Hickson herself does not over-sell this aspect (except with a final reference to Obama’s inauguration, described in new-dawn terms which may now seem unintentionally ironic to some). James Dacre directs with delicacy; Anthony Welsh makes a fine Sam and Ian Gelder brings out all the complexities and poignancies in the role of George. I hope we may see Hickson properly in the West End before too long.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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