Eugene O’Hare’s latest production, Sydney and the Old Girl, is about an ill-tempered old woman and her miserable son, living together in an East London flat. The pair despise each other but also depend on each other. Nell (Miriam Margoyles) claims that her son, Sydney (Mark Hadfield), makes her skin crawl, while Sydney refers to his mother as a ‘deaf old snatch’. The hatred between them is palpable, hilarious, and occasionally bordering on the depressing. The entrance of Nell’s carer, Mrs Fee (Vivien Parry) provides some light relief from the black comedy and adds a twist in the plot. Parry successfully conveys an innocence in her character, which feels like a crucial part of this otherwise very dark play.
Indeed, Eugene O’Hare writes his characters extremely well. Sydney especially has a particular nuance that enables the audience to feel sorry for, even empathise with him, even though he is an extremely unlikeable character. And apart from the occasional hesitation, Hadfield plays this difficult character with great conviction. The script does, at points, feel a bit relentless, the black comedy becoming slightly overwhelming. Thankfully though, on the whole though, the play is extremely funny.
The relationship between Nell and Sydney is actually quite sad. Sydney, a middle-aged but somehow not fully grown man, hates anything and anyone that threatens his narrow minded existence, taking out his frustration on his elderly mother. Nell in turn, is stuck in her flat all day every day, with apparently only two forms of human contact, Sydney and Mrs Fee, entertaining herself by putting her only surviving son down.
O’Hare’s story is one of loneliness, stagnation, and fear in a rapidly moving and ever-changing society. Sydney and Nell seem to have been left behind, and instead of taking solace in each other, they are intent on destroying their relationship. Hatred breeds hatred, and this is a surefire path to misery.
The star of the show, and absolutely the funniest person on stage, is Miriam Margoyles. Her performance is outstanding, full of energy and comedic timing. She transforms into a cantankerous old woman, both repulsive and likeable in equal measures. It is remarkable how much life she gives her character, particularly since she is in a wheelchair for almost the whole of the performance. Honestly, go and watch this production, even if it is just for Margoyles’ performance.
Written by: Eugene O’Hare
Directed by: Phillip Breen
Produced by: Park Theatre
Booking link: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/sydney-the-old-girl
Booking until: 30 November 2019