Directed by Lisa Blair
Pros: A poetic script, inspired casting and high production values make this show most enjoyable.
Cons: The script works well in terms of dialogue, but loses its way as far as the plot is concerned.
Our Verdict: This is a heartwarming show with very believable characters and strong direction.
I Didn’t Always Live Here is a tale set in Glasgow, focusing mainly on the life of Martha, an elderly lady who lives alone with her pet budgie. The play opens on Martha’s living room as she delivers a monologue directed mainly to the caged bird. From the outset, it is clear that we are safe in the hands of actress Jenny Lee, who is compelling from the moment she starts to speak right up to the very last scene. The play jumps between different periods in her life and Jenny Lee slips seamlessly between decades.
One of the strongest elements of this show is certainly the terrific cast. Lee has a lovely chemistry with her partner Jack – played by Carl Prekopp – and their scenes together feel completely genuine, as if we are peering into the lives of a real couple in love. The characters handle the ups and downs of life with such integrity that it is hard not to admire them. Similarly, Martha has a terrific rapport with Ellen, a beautiful young community care worker who looks in on Martha every couple of days in her later years. It is through this character, played by Alice Haig, that we get a taster of just how lonely Martha’s life becomes. The days between Ellen’s visits feel like weeks and when she’s not around, Martha continues the conversation with her budgie.
Another top class element of this show is the set design. The stage is divided into two halves – one side is Martha’s living room, the other is her neighbour’s. It has become standard for the Finborough
to create a set which feels like the real deal and this is no different. Everything from the dusty ornaments and thick patterned carpet to the weekly visits from the local priest reminded me of my own grandmother. Even the budgie seemed real. Similarly, the costume design is pitch perfect with every character looking like an authentic person from the chosen era. The young community care worker in particular looked completely stunning in her various colourful 1960s dresses. Everyone from the dust-covered workers to the 1940s wartime soldiers looked just right.
In terms of plot, this show is a slow mover. There were certain moments when I felt I could finally see where the story was going only to be right back where I started within minutes. One excellent scene involving the local ruffians harassing Jack over an incident at the dog track felt suitably dramatic and the two men, excellently played by Cameron Harris and Ross F. Sutherland, brought real mischief and drama to the story which was starting to lag at this point. Similarly, the various scenes between Martha and her neighbor (perfectly played by Eileen Nicholas) felt so full of truth and life that the plot suddenly seemed to take on a new direction before rapidly falling flat again in the next scene. However, having said that, this is a story about real life and the show feels like the journey of a real person – with exciting bits and less exciting bits all thrown in.
All in all, this is another typically great show from the Finborough with lots of heart and soul, and featuring the high production values we’ve come to expect. If you’re looking for an exciting storyline, this may well disappoint but when you’re going to see a show about the lives of little old ladies, compelling plotlines should not really be on your list of requirements.
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I Didn’t Always Live Here runs at the Finborough Theatre until 20th April 2013.