A Catered Affair at the London Theatre Workshop
Describing itself as a “boutique” theatre, the brand new London Theatre Workshop, perched on top of the beautiful Eel Brook pub in Fulham, only opened its doors in March. But since then it has staged a musical, a Eugene O’Neill play and an evening of Sondheim songs. Its fourth production is A Catered Affair, a musical by Harvey Fierstein and John Bucchino based on the 1956 film written by Gore Vidal.
Set in 1953 in the Bronx, it follows Aggie and Tom Hurley: their son has just died in military service and their neglected daughter Janey is getting married, so Aggie decides to put on a huge wedding even though Janey does not want the fuss.
The production captures the spirit of 50s New York – dowdy washerwomen gossip across balconies as they hang grey laundry out of their tenements. They have rollers in their hair and floral pinafores. There’s a touch of Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams in the tense family drama, the brutal look at family relationships. But the heaviness of the subject matter – grieving for lost children, poverty – is pushed aside by lighter set pieces, like a dinner table scene where Janey and her fiance’s parents meet for the first time. Uncle Win, the camp “confirmed bachelor uncle”, bursts in drunk and ruins things. David Anthony does a great job of playing Win with overt melodrama that hides a real sadness at not being able to live his life freely.
Maggie Robson as Aggie, who has most of the big numbers, embodies the role in that perfect way that means you can’t imagine anyone else performing it. She is part nagging wife, part grieving mother and exudes the weariness that her hard life has etched into her body and soul.
The musicians (musical director David Keefe) play beautifully, filling the small room with lush strings and gentle clarinet. But against six or seven musicians the singers sometimes have a hard time being heard, especially in the songs that are heavy on the lyrics. The piece itself is somewhere between musical and play; it has a great deal of dialogue and the performers, with a few exceptions, are better actors than singers. Under Ray Rackham’s direction A Catered Affair is a gentle gem of fringe theatre in a beautiful setting.
A Catered Affair is at London Theatre Workshop until 20th June 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.