HAMPSTEAD THEATRE NW3
UNTIL 29 JANUARY 2022
WRITER: ALAN PLATER
DIRECTOR: RICHARD WILSON
CAST: TAMSIN GREIG; JOSH FINAN; TREVOR FOX; DANUSIA SAMAL; JOS VANTYLER
REVIEW by SUSAN GRAY
Peggy For You’s hilarity should come as no surprise, as the production’s comedy pedigree stretches back to the golden age of television. But what is a shock is quite how many decades it now takes to span from the era Play For Today to today. Director Richard Wilson first brought One Foot In the Grave’s Victor Meldrew to the small screen in 1990. And playwright Alan Plater wrote scripts for Z Cars as well as Gen X childhood comedies and dramas including Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggatt first airing in 1974, and 1979 mini series Flambards.
Faced with the challenge of reviving a play first staged in 1999, that could trigger an asteroid storm of half remembered comedy fragments for the audience, the Hampstead’s production shares the spotlight between the character of literary agent Peggy Ramsay, and the business of writing and staging a play. ‘We’re all tarts, just some of us walk better streets than others.’
First seen curled up on a chaise longue, animatedly reading a script from the teetering pile at her feet, Tamsin Greig’s lead inhabits both her character, and the stage where she is present for nearly every minute of the play. James Cotterill’s design of adjoining offices for Peggy and assistant Tessa, makes the Hampstead’s proscenium stage seem even wider than usual, as if it has been stretched on a boot tree.
The structure of Peggy For You is deceptively simple. It takes us from dawn when Peggy has returned after standing police bail for a client, to early evening when she displays sanguinity at the turning of the great wheel of life. In between, her day is punctuated by the ringing phone, adeptly handled by Danusia Samal’s cool and composed Tessa, and by visiting writer clients. The clients also represent an arc, with emerging playwright Simon played with quiet resolve by Josh Finan. Jos Vantyler’s Philip is the toast of the West End and Broadway, and wears his success with humour and good grace, while Trevor Fox’s veteran Henry, flashes between black humour and resentment. Fox gives a compelling, tragi-comic performance of what it is to feel like yesterday’s man.
Plater was born in the North East, and cap wearing, Geordie Henry has an autobiographical tinge. As does Peggy’s championing of work, at whatever cost to personal life. Plater wrote over 500 film, television and stage scripts in his career. Peggy is unimpressed by one of the ‘Yorkshire Alans’ describing locals marvelling at the construction of Humber Bridge: ‘Such a shame some people would rather watch others working than work themselves.’
And Peggy For You practices what it preaches, with the cast giving their all to take us to a time when a mid-life woman spoke her truth, with caustic wit and insight, and the arts world listened.
Josh Finan, Trevor Fox and Danusia Samal (left to right) with Tamsin Grieg in Peggy for You