I looked forward to seeing Putney Theatre Company’s production of Our New Girl by Nancy Harris after a beautifully delivered performance in April of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, but this time around I fear the play missed the mark somewhat.
One of the problems of the text is the establishment of the main premise of the play very early on leaving nowhere else to take it except round in circles somewhat... that is the potential undermining of the fraught, tense and very pregnant lady of the house by the visitation of an unwanted nanny. This is set in the first few minutes; we get it very quickly and the play does not move with urgency, purpose or fluidity for the remainder of the act and contains lots of repetition just to make sure we understand what is happening!
Matters pick up a little in the second half with a handful of dramatic developments but the overall lack of surprise in such matters unfolding and various sub themes floating around in a disconnected fashion militate against the effectiveness of the piece.
The set by Barney Hart Dyke and Julie Somers-Bayley gave a splendid backdrop to the action, being a compact, smart kitchen, gleamingly modern, well-appointed and suited to the exchanges between the characters. After a wordless opening of presumably some significance - it is not necessarily clear and is repeated at the end of the play - in which the troubled and troublesome son played by Etienne Dias is involved. We then enter straight into the arrival of the nanny meeting the aforementioned wife.
The part of the pregnant wife is played in impressive style by Louisa Pead. It is a demanding role and she portrays a mixture of emotions convincingly, ranging from anger and bewilderment to vulnerability and hurt. Not least impressive was the ‘baby bump’ created by Allie Duthie - so realistic!
The nanny who is to progressively chip away at the wife’s confidence and well being, exploring her fragility and high stress level, is played by Tigony Phillips. I felt that Tigony could have been a little more sinister and devious in her projection of the essentially malovelent nanny, as her demeanour does not change enough through the significant events of the play despite her status and position being affected accordingly by such happenings.
Simon Clarke is the often absent husband who is currently coming and going on urgent and worthy medical related trips to Aghanistan and the like. He is tolerant of his wife’s advanced emotional state and concurrent problems in juggling the different aspects of her life without being particularly empathetic. Simon plays the husband in a louche and urbane, well enunciated fashion. He was impressively relaxed in his persona without ever truly convincing that he and Hazel were a matching couple with very much in common.
Conviction and believability are important aspects in productions, it appears to me; thus when the highly predictable and inevitable physical liaison comes around in act 2 between Tigony and Simon, the scene lacked any degree of the required sexual tension and anticipation. It felt as though the actors were going through the motions somewhat rather than engendering any degree of passion or feelings.
Etienne Dias, playing the young son, portrayed a neat persona that was a mix between sneering and apprehension. He is witness to the kiss and cuddle between Tigony and Simon which should be potentially traumatic and puzzling for him, but when he relays this information to his mother in front of the errant pair, it is delivered in a matter of fact way rather than containing elements of anger, bewilderment and sorrow as perhaps it should.
This particular scene contains one of the best moments in the play; a sudden and startling physical attack by the mother on the nanny in an effort to prove the son’s revelation about what he saw. A fine piece of instigation by the director Beth Pedersen.
It transpires that the nanny had a deeply affected childhood, losing her mother at the age of 9 by virtue of the latter’s suicide and a briefly brutal episode at the hand of her father. Returning to my theme, I felt again that the conveying of the information in a two handed scene with the mother was underplayed.
There were a number of necessary scene changes and these were bridged by sound bites from a language tutorial, in keeping with the Italian theme. The mother was struggling with a home-based business importing and selling olive oil from Sicily. Despite the symbolism the sound bites were a touch tiresome after a while. Perhaps music may have worked better. Excellent lighting I should add by Anntony Vine in design and Molly Clery in operation. Praise also to Tom Sainsbury in sound design.