mooney 

Moa Myerson as Mave and Toby Burchell as Charley, naive newlyweds ill equipped to take on the world that lies beyond their innocent hopes and dreams

Mooney and his caravans

Malvern Theatres

****

Charley and Mave are newlyweds, setting out on life’s journey with dreams of a stone built Cotswold Cottage.

Dreams are just that though while reality is a rented caravan on a run down caravan site, but at least they are on the edge of the Cotswolds, somewhere near Evesham.

The site is run by Mooney. We never see him in this Peter Terson two hander, but he is always there, like a bad smell that never goes away.

Mooney is a bully, and a lecherous one at that who finds in our new lovebirds couple he can exploit, Charley as unpaid labour under the guise or responsibility and a promise of moving him from the field to a concrete standing in the esteemed area of “the residents”, and Mave . . . well she is a woman.

She is young, pretty, naïve and at home all day while Charley works as a machinist in nearby factory.

Moa Myerson, a graduate of Malvern Theatres Young Company, plays her beautifully, an excellent foil for Toby Burchell as Charley, like Moa a graduate of the youth company making their way in the professional ranks.

The lovebirds have moved from Birmingham’s Selly Oak and it “doesn’t pay to stay in Selly Oak” according to Mave who worries people might think her stuck up because she doesn’t want to live on a council estate.

Meanwhile Charley is a bundle of contradictions. He talks at a hundred miles an hour and is never put upon by Mooney, oh no, not him; for example when Mooney told him to clean the toilet block he did it because he was going to do it that moment anyway not because he had been told to. Mooney didn’t tell him what to do!

mooney ad

While it was Mooney at home at work it was Dempsey, another bully we were never to see, who made Charley’s life . . . difficult. Charley was prepared to take on Mooney and Dempsey, tell them what for, stand up to them, stand up for Mave, demand a concrete slab, so much so that people had to hold him back . . .please . . . “hold me back”.

While Charley had a strange mix of subservient hero worship and fear of petty dictator Mooney Mave was seeing the light that was blinding her husband. She saw they were being exploited even to the point of profiteering in the camp shop. She went shopping in Evesham, or Eversham as she said it, to find peas at 1s 3d in Mooney’s shop were 9d in the town (ask grandad – the play was originally a BBC Wednesday Play in pre-decimal 1966).

There was no work for a copy typist, the job she had in Birmingham and she turned down offers from the labour exchange (ask grandad again) which left hopes of saving a deposit for that stone built Cotswold cottage diminishing until Mooney offered her £8 a week (around £150 today) to type a few letters as the holiday season started with tourists arriving to go and see Shakespeare plays at Stratford – or Shakerspeare as Charley had it.

Mooney was to bring letters round to her, sometimes calling round when he had no letters to type . . . and we all know where this is heading. He can be very persuasive, said Mave as she suggested moving back to Selly Oak.

The play is a bittersweet comedy. At first amusing as we watch a naïve couple finding their way with a level of education that ill equipped them for the big wide world. We admired Charley’s enthusiasm, his ambition, his hopes of landing the charge hand’s job.

Slowly we saw though that his desire to please was not so much being helpful as being a doormat. His constant excuses as to why he had become an unpaid toilet cleaner, his “I’ll tell him what for if you don’t hold me back moments” and his ultimate denials of reality, the glaringly obvious to anyone with two working brain cells drift from amusing to sadness, you feel for him and wonder what will become of him and his now pregnant Mave.

She was frightened, alone and could see what was happening but could not escape back to the safety of Selly Oak – and no doubt the security of that once dreaded council estate.

You felt for both of them and to manage to create that level of emotional involvement in characters in a theatre around seven per cent full is a testament to the skill of the actors and director, the theatre's chief executive, Nic Lloyd.

Mooney will be taking bookings for caravans (wearing masks) until Saturday with matinees today (16-09-20) and Saturday (19-09-20)

Roger Clarke

 

So how was it for you . . .

The last time we went to a theatre was back in March when we arrived at the Alex to review Everyone is Talking about Jamie – and everyone was talking about him, or rather it because the performance had just been cancelled.

It was the night the Government had declined to close theatres or cinemas, ensuring no insurance claims could be made, merely warning people not to go, effectively closing them by default.

So even to walk into a theatre again was an experience. What was it like? How about churchlike? It was rather like entering a cathedral in a city that had fallen off the tourist trail – empty spaces, short of visitors, every sound echoing around the deserted hall, a sad, forlorn shadow of past glories.

It was the silence that hit you first. Half an hour before curtain up a theatre should be bustling, a hubbub of excited chatter, friends meeting, glasses chinking, hail fellow well met, eat drink and be merry, all the world’s a stage and all that.

Instead silence, A few masked staff pointing out where to go. Entrance was rather like being in the curtain call of some panto or other. Wait for the act in front to take their bow, or at least have their names checked on the ticket list, and then move away before you made your own entrance.

In the auditorium, with its 850 seat capacity, around 60 souls sat in splendid isolation, most masked, as requested, a feature which had the silver lining that no one was chomping their way through crisps or those special theatrical sweets people choose because they have the noisiest cellophane wrappers known to man. Woe betide the first man to design a theatre mask with a sweet flap at the front!

Malvern had scattered the audience out to keep social distancing . . . and then some. No one had to pass anyone else to get in or out, no one sat in front or behind you and we all left, distanced again, by fire exits into the open air.

It had been a strange experience. Rather like in that empty cathedral, voices carried. Enter the Festival theatre in February this year and there would have been a wall of noise, people chattering, talking to neighbours, hailing friends. Last night you could hear people 60 seats away whispering to partners.

The play, Mooney and his caravans, is ideal studio material, which gave us the novelty of a studio production in comfortable seats and in these Covid times plays such as this, Shirley Valentine, Educating Rita, Duet for One, Frankie and Johnny in the Clare de Lune and the like with their one and two actor casts could well become the bread and butter of programming with musicals limited to the likes of Jason Robert Brown’s quite beautiful two hander The Last Five Years.

Malvern have made a start, it was a welcome and much needed return, a much needed test of the possible in these troubling times. The actors, Moa Myerson as Mave and Toby Burchell as Charley, played their parts superbly, coping well with the sparse audience scattered around like currants in a bun; thanks to them once the lights went down and the stage came alive, theatre had returned.

Watching in a mask was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable, it was just . . . well different, something we have to live with for the time being – live being perhaps the operative word here. Malvern’s venture worked without any visible hitch but what is clear though is that the theatre industry will need help if it is to survive.

Sixty people in an 850 seat theatre is just not viable, it is 7.06 per cent capacity and no theatre in the world can survive on that – but, the phoenix is stirring and  the first tentative steps have been taken.

Roger Clarke

Home

Index page Malvern Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre