by Willy Russell
Willy Russell’s play Breezeblock Park, set in a northern council estate, is about a working-class family Christmas in the 1970s.
Christmas is a time when family tensions can sizzle and they certainly do in this piece. We see sibling rivalries over sofas and central heating, drunken sexism between brothers-in-law and big revelations from the (almost) grown up children. Russell crafts brilliant characters and has written a script that simmers with both humour and pathos throughout.
A mention first of the design team: set, lighting, sound, costumes and props. We were well and truly in the 1970s and I imagine many of the audience found it nostalgic, remembering the typical décor, fixtures and fittings of the period. All the elements of design worked well together to create a realistic background and ambience for the cast. I was particularly impressed with how the wallpaper changed for Act Two: a magic trick!
I thoroughly enjoyed watching this cast, who faced a real challenge with such heavy dialogue in many scenes, but they bounced well off each other and kept the flow going. Donnamarie Stamp and Liz Rew were very enjoyable as the two sisters, Betty and Reeny. The audience relished the snide remarks and constant one upmanship between the two.
Betty’s sister-in-law, Vera, was played by Tracy Stafford who nailed the wide-eyed naivety required. Frank Stamp, the hen-pecked Syd, gave a convincing performance and the long-married vibes between him and Betty were so funny. The drunken dreamer, Tommy was played with vigour and passion by Sam Howe, and Ted, the controlling, ‘expert on everything’ uncle was perfectly played by Peter Thomas.
We also saw young newcomers on the stage, and they all gave such confident performances. Rosie Mounsey, who played the discontented daughter so well, was compelling in her portrayal of Sandra. Lawrie Buchanan had just the right mannerisms and expression for the brainwashed son of Ted, and lastly Ben Cook was perfectly cast to play the middle-class student who had opened Sandra’s eyes to another world. His constant look of bewilderment at the family was spot on.
Well done to new producer Emma Colclough who has thrilled audiences with her interpretation and direction. A great success!