Theatre Review – This Year’s Ashes
I think it says a lot about me that the first time Brian appears on stage I thought he was a pedophile. I knew he was Ellen’s father but for at least twenty minutes I was certain he was a predatory sexual deviant with a strong hankering to get his daughter into bed. But perhaps it wasn’t just me and my warped sensibilities? Perhaps there were other people in the audience who thought the same thing? Certainly my companion for the night had no more idea than I had, but then again us warped sensibility types tend to stick together. There was the old blue dressing gown for one thing. Tony Llewellyn-Jones is a handsome fellow but in an old blue dressing gown, which threatens to gape open with every step he takes, he’s pretty scary. And the way Ellen skirts around the stage, clearly frightened and always keeping the bed between her and him makes me think someone, and not just me, has got sex on the brain. In my defence I should add that we had only just seen Ellen in that very same bed, being bored senseless by some guy screwing his heart out. So sex was definitely in the air … it can’t just be me, can it?
We find out the truth about Ellen’s father, and the reason for Ellen’s binge drinking, at the end of Act One but by then I’d supposed at least three or four scenarios that might explain what he was doing in his daughter’s flat in his dressing gown. My penultimate scenario was that he was most probably one of those reformed drunkard fathers, who’d sold all his clothes, and just lobs in every now and then before pissing off. Not that he seemed a bad type, he didn’t, he seemed quite nice really but it was the only satisfactory explanation I could come up with. So when I found out the truth, well you could have knocked me over with a feather. Not what I expected at all. In fact even if I’d been writing the play and was just about to write the last scene for Act One I wouldn’t have expected it. Such was my surprise.
There’s a lot to like about This Year’s Ashes. It’s funny, except when Brian is banging on about silly-mid on and first slip, (who doesn’t know where first slip stands), the characters are great, the acting is good, there’s real warmth and it all ties up very neatly in the end, which is really the beginning. But it sort of fell between two stools … it was amusing but it raised one very large issue which was never dealt with. There was enough humour and warmth to almost suspend disbelief but using a conceit, such as immortality, reminds me of Jerry’s advice to George when George wants to tell a woman he loves her – ‘That’s a pretty bit matzah ball hanging out there.’ And once it’s brought on to the stage it somehow gets in the way of everything else.
This Year’s Ashes is playing at the Griffin Theatre until November 19.