My Girl 2 at the Old Red Lion Theatre
“There’s hundreds of thousands worse off than us,” says Sam, a working-class social worker, husband to pregnant Anita, in Barrie Keeffe’s My Girl 2. This was the case when the play was first written in 1989 and is the case in 2014, now that the play has been rewritten to tap into the political, financial and cultural topics of the present day. What’s changed since 1989? There is still poverty in the East End of London; there are still rich and poor. Only now we’ve been through Jimmy Savile and Baby P and evil bankers and data mining and Miley Cyrus – the great social ills of our age.
The political themes that Keeffe throws up in telling the story of a young couple in 2014 are desperately important. The rise of food banks is despicable, the precariousness of the existence of so many people is brought home convincingly. Sam and Anita cannot guarantee that they will not be homeless after their payday loans have stacked up. But the politics are too important to be flicked away by casual witticisms. Keeffe does not go far enough in exploring them, instead resorting to unnuanced, pithy remarks that would get a clap on Question Time.
Apart from that, Keeffe’s dialogue flows thick and fast, building a deep, conflicted and helpless mother in Anita and a bit of an arse, but generally a well meaning one, in Sam. Emily Plumtree’s Anita is particularly good. She remains calm in the face of Sam’s empty, fatigue-induced threats to smother their baby. She insults him tenderly, shows growing desperation when she thinks he’s having an affair. Sam sounds occasionally like Nicholas Lyndhurst, elongating his cockney accent and over-egging comic lines. In fact, there is a studio sitcom feel to much of the play, with the one-room set, the droll lines that are given natural pauses for audience laughter and the story of a working class, down-on-their-luck couple.
The play feels right on its Ikea set, enlivened by little touches, like their infant daughter’s mad scribbles displayed proudly on the wall. This is a domestic drama, a modern take on the kitchen sink classics, with political digressions thrown in. But the politics are deeply poignant and, to its great credit, My Girl 2 brings them a little closer to home.
My Girl 2 is at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 12th July 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.