Nottingham Playhouse, Notingham – until 4 March 2017
“The world’s changing. It’s not going to go back to the way it was.”
There’s something admirable in actors who remain loyal to their roots – I’m thinking of the likes of Maxine Peake who has established a good deal of her stage career in her native North West and now Vicky McClure, who is making her professional stage debut in Nottingham, the town of her birth. Riding high on sterling TV credits like ‘This is England’ and ‘Line of Duty’, she likely had opportunities aplenty in London theatres so it is salutary that it is to Nottingham Playhouse she has turned.
And not only that, it is to a local play by a local writer, Stephen Lowe’s Touched, which lends the 1977 play a real sense of authenticity (and more exposure to Nottingham dialect than I’ve ever had before!). Set in 1945 in the 100 day period between VE Day and VJ Day, it focuses on the lives of the women left holding the country together in this time of great upheaval, which shows no signs of slowing down as a new Labour government look set to win the election and nuclear bombs about to fall.
But even with these momentous events as a backdrop, the day-to-day living has to continue and it is to this that Lowe turns his attention. Three sisters form the core of his play – Chloe Harris’ Betty is a dreamer who longs for the romance that war took from her, Aisling Loftus’ marvellous Joan is plain-talking pragmatism personified and McClure plays the traumatised Sandra, whose secrets are gradually revealed through the prism of working-class morality that governed so strongly.
Director Matt Aston makes a virtue out of ritual – the ironing, the making of tea, the pegging out of washing, the production line at the factory – against which the drama plays out. And Jamie Vartan’s terrace house designs ingeniously evoke the period whilst smoothly transitioning into something more fantastical as Sandra’s grip on reality loosens, Julian Butler’s evocative soundscape coming into its own here. The hyper-locality may make this the perfect fit, the only fit, for this theatre but Touched’s beautifully judged focus on capturing the neglected stories of women in wartime and their dreams of the future radiates far beyond the East Midlands.