Courtyard Theatre, London – until 28 October 2018
The first production of Ella Hickson’s play since its revival in 2009, Precious Little Talent (which is directed by Brock Elwick) makes a timely appearance in the run-up to the close of the year. Joey (Marta Kane) is a British girl in New York on Christmas Eve. She meets Sam (Henry George Lewis) on a rooftop and despite their different temperaments, spend a magical evening together. However, after parting ways, they awkwardly bump into each other the next day. While Joey is visiting George – her father – Sam’s already there as George’s carer. Only Joey doesn’t know about George’s dementia and Sam’s under strict instructions not to let her know…
While Joey and Sam seem to conform to the stereotypes of British versus American behaviour, the play isn’t really about that, or about finding common ground regarding the emotional weight and sincerity of words (though that does feature).
Sam is a 19-year-old youth who despite having faced hardships, has an optimistic, ‘can-do’ mentality. Joey, on the other hand, has found life post-graduation anything but a bed of roses, with no career to speak of, and her remarried mother starting another family. For Joey, life has moved on without her, with no material or emotional stability to ground her. As a result of this, memories of a happy childhood spur her on to contact her father, who she’s not seen in years.
Anyone who knows dementia knows it’s one of the cruellest of diseases, robbing one’s memories, dignity and identity. Through Mark Keegan’s George, we see how the periodic moments of lucidity might cause a person to withdraw from the world to spare everyone embarrassment and frustration. In a city of 8.5 million people, George is just another ‘Englishman in New York’. Who’s going to notice another person there losing their mind?
Joey’s punctilious use of language – she asserts she is ‘English’, not ‘British’ – highlights her sense of separation from people and mental detachment from her sense of identity. Believing in nothing – not even love – Joey’s another ex-pat who is adrift looking for meaning.
For Sam, his cheerfulness seems naive and misplaced, but the result of the 2008 presidential election has given hope to the nation and cause for optimism for the future. Roll on 10 years, and America is a very different place – more divided and disheartened than ever before. In this light, the optimisic country of a decade ago seems a distant memory, just like Joey’s childhood…