By Debra Oswald. The Theatre on Chester. Director: Kaye Lopez. 6th – 28th April, 2018
‘Tis a pity Debra Oswald has stopped writing for the stage, because, despite the success of her TV, film and more recently her novels, the characters she created for the theatre have an authenticity that gives directors, actors and audiences much to think about and much to love. They are enduring and the issues they face transcend generations.
In Mr Bailey’s Minder is one of them. Director Kaye Lopez sees it as “… a deeply moving piece about friendship, ego, art and the secret longing for a better life … shame and judgement, love and forgiveness”. That so many ideas can be portrayed by four characters in two short hours is a tribute to Oswald’s perspicacious insights and discerning characterisation.
Leo Bailey is a famous artist who has sunk into alcoholic dementia. He lives in boozy isolation in a dilapidated house carved into a cliff. Offensive and cruel, he has driven away his family, apart from the eldest, Margot, who, manages his dwindling estate from a distance. She too has suffered his malicious tongue and spitefulness but a strange sense of duty impels her to provide for him. Enter Therese, a young offender, who takes on the role of Leo’s ‘minder’. A little rough around the edges, but determined not to go back to gaol, she takes on the task of carer with a will, eventually breaking through Leo’s obnoxiousness, and, in the process, finding herself.
Alan and Cate Cunningham have transformed the stage into the mouldering kitchen-sitting room of Leo’s house. The rock face forms one wall, and a broken stained-glass window lets in the changing light, designed by Wal Moore. Paintings hang from the paint spattered walls and discarded canvasses lean against them. Empty bottles litter every surface. A glass panelled door opens as Margot introduces Therese to the house – and the unusual job for which she has applied.
As Margot, Paula Searle is suitably cold and aloof. She is tense, distant, completely ill-at-ease in this house she used to call home. She suffers Leo’s verbal abuse with dogged stiffness, . . .