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Dementia play struggles for rhythm, heart and melody
Geordie Sinatra, Stephen Joseph Theatre/Live Theatre, Newcastle, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until June 2. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com SCARBOROUGH put north-eastern playwright Fiona Evans on the map with her Edinburgh Fringe First-winning play in 2009.
The East Coast resort then gave her 2010 tabloid drama The Price Of Everything its world premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. The Press notice was less than complimentary, complaining that “this unimaginative play feels dishonest and gets on your nerves the more it progresses”.
SJT artistic director Chris Monks obviously saw something in the soap-operatic energy of Evans’s writing, and so she returns with a story that is personal to writer and director.
The subject is dementia, and Evans and Monks have experience of a father with that bewildering condition (as does your reviewer, although that in no way influences my response to the play).
Geordie Sinatra swaps one northern coastal town for another, replacing Scarborough with Whitley Bay’s Sands Hotel, the north-eastern tribute to the Las Vegas original.
Long closed but left as it was, it is still open in the addled, hallucinating mind of Geordie (Anthony Cable), who thinks he is Frank Sinatra.
On a Jan Bee Brown stage that reconfigures the theatre-in-the-round as a three-sided theatre with the bar behind and the audience able to sit at cabaret tables, Geordie is singing at his most Sinatra dapper.
Suddenly, the lights cut out and next he is seen with his trousers around his ankles and a Tannoy alerting supermarket staff to his distressed presence. It is the play’s best and most poignant moment, a physical image more potent than Evans’s powers of the pen, which have a tendency to cliché and overstatement.
There follows an excruciating scene with a police officer (Kraig Thornber) of second-rate sitcom jokes before the play settles into its hall-of-mirrors story of muddled truths, lies, deceptions and misconceptions, where ironically Geordie becomes far too clear thinking in the second half.
Geordie is married to Joan (Jill Myers), who he thinks is Frank’s mum Dolly, but is in fact sort of someone else again (without giving too much away). Enter hard-bitch journalist daughter Nancy (a thankless, grotesque role for Heather Saunders in the first half), who Geordie transforms into Ava Gardner in the slightly improved second half.
Enter Sonny (Thornber’s awful part number two), the drummer from Geordie’s band, carrying the cumbersome burden of a back story involving a paternity suit.
Unlike Cable’s first-class singing of Frank favourites, Evans’s “darkly humorous” play and its strained performance struggle for rhythm, heart and melody.
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