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Brimstone and Treacle, Hope Theatre, review: ‘The themes remain eerily pertinent’

PUBLISHED: 16:30 08 May 2017

Brimstone And Treacle (Fergus Leathem, Olivia Beardsley). Picture: lhphotoshots

Brimstone And Treacle (Fergus Leathem, Olivia Beardsley). Picture: lhphotoshots

Archant

This production honours its taboo-ridden intent in a thought-provoking, challenging fashion

Even with shifting attitudes, you can see why the BBC refused to screen this Dennis Potter play in 1976. Brimstone and Treacle stands as a brazen affront to social mores and moral conduct: challenging the boundaries of taste.

And yet, the setting is all so innocuous.

Placed within the cosy confines of a suburban middle England home, Mr and Mrs Bates care for their daughter Pattie (Olivia Beardsley), who is bedbound after suffering from a hit-and-run incident. She is incomprehensible, and writhes in unpredictable spasms upon her bed.

In a very patriarchal setting, Mr Bates (Paul Clayton) runs a tight ship. He is wrestling with frustrations of his own. Recently a signee with the National Front, he is nostalgic for a country he feels is lost.

His wife, played by Stephanie Beattie, is fussy, suppressed and a little depressed in the prison enforced by both the stereotype of gender roles and circumstance.

It is through this pressure cooker environment that mysterious stranger Martin (Fergus Leathem), emerges. Bending over backwards to please, he elicits suspicion by being too good to be true. The mother laps up his gestures, but the father is more cynical about Martin’s protestations of familiarity with Pattie. Who is this man? By breaking the fourth wall, he prompts clues that he is not as he appears.

With a set meticulously ascribed to 70s detail, the script is equally littered with references that demarcate its time.

Strangely, however, whilst the reference points are old, many of the themes remain eerily pertinent. Creeping with portent, it is a work not for the faint of heart or the nervous of disposition.

Potter’s play is startling in the way it pitches its tent in a dark place and refuses to ease up. This production honours its taboo-ridden intent in a thought-provoking, challenging fashion.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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