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THEATRE REVIEW: Lucky Numbers/ Royal Court Theatre

Just the ticket in places but you can't win 'em all, says Philip Key

Published on March 17th 2010.


THEATRE REVIEW: Lucky Numbers/ Royal Court Theatre

THE comedy Lucky Numbers has certainly been lucky for its writer, Mike Yeaman. A single act of the play won him a £2,000 playwriting prize and when he developed it, a studio production in the Newcastle suburb of Jesmond was followed by a bigger show in South Shields.

Michael Starke is
always good value but on this occasion there
is a lot of hard work
for little return

It has since been presented in New Zealand and now arrives here with a few added Liverpudlian touches.

It was the first full-length play by the Newcastle actor-turned-playwright and frankly looks it.

Structurally it is very loose, characters change in ways that don’t quite ring true and the theme of a greedy family chasing money is hardly a novel one.But that does not mean it is not enjoyable. The audience seemed to like it with cheers and clapping and hearty laughter at times. It’s just that it could be so much better with a bit of fine-tuning.

The plot – and the play boasts a strong if over-played storyline – involves a grandmother who wins the big prize on the lottery, £8 million.Before you can say bingo, her family are trying to get their hands on the ticket, worried that grandma with her weakening mental faculties may lose it.

The publicity for the show suggests she is suffering from dementia, but it seems a very mild version in the script, and the performance of a very lively Sheila Reid, a classical stage actress currently best-known for her appearance as Madge in the television comedy-drama Benidorm, underlines it. The diminutive Ms Reid really holds the play together, controlling the action and getting most of the big laughs.

As Nana, she uses the promise of the ticket to try to change her shiftless family: flighty daughter Janice, her workshy son-in-law Ronnie, lazy grandson Steven and drop-out granddaughter Lisa.

By not revealing where the ticket is, there is a lot of chasing around looking for it and, when that fails, trying to fool the old lady into thinking they have changed their ways. The work-shy husband starts wearing a shirt and tie and carrying a briefcase, the granddaughter abandons her goth outfit for a dress and the daughter tries to end her affair with family friend Mick.

The mood changes backwards and forwards from farce to sitcom, from drawing room comedy to sentimental drama.Director Ken Alexander keeps things moving throughout these baffling shifts and the cast do their best with some unlikely character changes.

Dear old Nana, for example, is seen for the most part as stuck in the past always recalling the same wartime memory, but then lets slip a vulgarism and ends up discussing motorcycles with the leather-clad boyfriend of the granddaughter and telling him: “ Now we are smoking from the same crack pipe.”

Sheila Reid, however, gives so powerful a performance that such oddities just about scrape by.The affair between daughter Janice (Pauline Fleming in harassed mode) and family friend Mick (Mike Neary delivering some suggestive dialogue) seems to be part of another play.

Two of the younger cast members do make strong impressions, Rachel Rae as the wayward, poetry-writing daughter, Lisa, and Kris Mochrie as her multi-coloured, Mohican hair-styled boyfriend, Shane: both have some very funny scenes.

There’s a bit of business involving a kitchen boiler which adds nothing apart from a big bang to the story, and lots of running in and out of doors and up stairs, much involving the show’s best-known star, Michael Starke, as lazy husband Ronnie.

Starke is always good value but on this occasion there is a lot of hard work for little return. Chris Crookall also has problems making much out of video game-playing grandson, Steven.

Now for the good stuff. There are some excellent lines in the show like Nana’s comment on free range eggs – “I don’t like them, you don’t know where they’ve been” - and the suggestion that a woman was leaving her husband and had made separate financial arrangements: “She has set up her own Nectar card.”

The comedy bubbles along quite merrily with apt choices of standard songs between scenes (They Can’t Take That Away From Me, etc) and there are thankfully few moments when the action slows.There is an impressive set from designer Mark Walters with the family home’s interior set against a row of terraced houses.

The ending is also a surprise one, even if it does change the mood rather abruptly. Given the right tweaks, Lucky Numbers could be a great show. As it is, it is fairly amusing and reasonably OK, but nothing more.

6/10

*Lucky Numbers runs at the Royal Court until April 10.

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