There’s been a bit of a backlash from older actresses bemoaning the lack of quality roles recently.
In Old Money, it’s not that writer Sarah Wooley has to make an effort to get us interested in the life of Joyce (Maureen Lipman), a new widow after 40 years of stultifying marriage, but we react readily to it. There were plenty of laughs in the audience at Hampstead where the play received its premiere, as well as some genuine pathos.
Lipman movingly imagines her former life as a mask chipping off, literally in pieces in her soup. It’s a funny and yet pathetic image, which tells you a lot about this play’s lovely mixture of comedy and sadness. Anaesthetised to her surroundings Joyce does what she wants to do as if in a wonderful dream. Her daughter wants her to look after screaming children (to fill ‘the void’ of mourning) but she prefers the opera, making friends with a stripper and finds a new lease of life in a bright red coat from Bond Street (“I usually go to Marks”, she says, bemused at her own bravery).
The younger generation get short shrift in Wooley’s world. Daughter Fiona (Tracy Ann Oberman), all functional common sense and expensive clothes, assumes her mum’s help should come on tap, including the odd two grand loan. Husband Graham (Timothy Watson) loafs around, a faded musician with faded hopes; ironically it’s his and Fiona's life that’s empty, despite the arrival of a new baby and the rest of their lives before them. OK, they are a bit two dimensionally drawn, but who hasn’t met a couple obsessed with installing new kitchens in suburban London?
Rick Fisher’s lighting and Tim Shortall’s design is neat and pleasing, with no messy scene changes to distract attention. Hovering lamps swoop down to suggest mouldy sitting room or hospital corridor, along with a backdrop suggesting at one time chintz wallpaper; at another, stark hospital corridors.
There’s nothing remotely tired and old about Old Money and Maureen Lipman is a real treat to see.
Old Money is at Hampstead Theatre until 12 January 2013, tickets £15-£29. We saw this show on a press ticket.