Murray and Babai

Richard Stacey as Murray with young wife, Baba, played by Evelyn Hoskins

Hero’s Welcome

Malvern Theatres

****

THE model train set that preoccupies Derek in Hero’s Welcome, Ayckbourn’s latest and 79th play,  is a  frequent source of amusement in this rather serious play.

Kara’s strippergram and Baba’s vocabulary likewise give us a few laughs, but ultimately this is rather a sad story.

Murray returns to his home town after serving in the army for 17 years. When he joined up, he left a trail of misery behind him after abandoning Alice pregnant at the altar, having exploited various women in competition with Brad. However he returns with a medal for bravery in action and a foreign wife on his arm.

For a variety of reasons various individuals want him to leave again as soon as possible, as the play progresses layers are peeled away to reveal some of the ugliness and deceit that is beneath the surface of their lives.

But his young wife, with the long name shortened to Baba, is the breath of fresh air. Kara finds a new friend in Baba, whose youthful innocence and love for Murray provide a spark of hope in a tired and cynical community. 

Her resistance to Brad’s sexually predatory overtures, her faithful love for Murray, played by Richard Stacey, and their hopes to renew the Birds of Prey Hotel in the town centre, where Murray spent much of his youth, give a sense of hope that the future can be bright.

The Stephen Joseph Theatre production, directed by Ayckbourn himself, provides an excellent and fascinating piece of entertainment. The set is divided into the three areas representing the three forms of accommodation occupied by the three couples.

Murray and Baba’s flat, Derek and Alice’s modern house and Brad and Kara’s stately period home ensure that the moves from one location to another are easy and seamless with the effective use of lighting.

The talented cast provide a strong contrast in various characters. There are no weak links. Derek, the eccentric and slightly older husband to Alice, has an obsession with model trains and is colourfully portrayed by Russell Dixon and he is provides much of the humour in the play.

Brad is strongly portrayed by Stephen Billington, cynical, superior, cruel to his wife Kara and desperately needing to prove himself in competition with Murray. Emma Manton’s portrayal of Kara presents us with a deeply repressed wife who hides the depths of her hurt under a forced smile that seems to be almost permanently planted on her face.

Evelyn Hoskins as Baba catches the attention most particularly. Her struggle with the language in which she becomes increasingly fluent is amusing, her countercultural energy and ultimately her love and devotion to Murray provide a redemptive influence in a society that seems to have been poisoned by history and past selfishness.

Many Ayckbourn plays focus on a small circle of characters whose eccentricities and relationships provide amusing, intriguing and sometimes moving entertainment with an absence of moral observation.

Hero’s Welcome is unusual in that it provides a few comic moments, but in general it is a more serious and unsettling story and it provides us with something of a moral reflection as well. The morally dissolute history of male competitiveness and exploitation of women, of self-interested permissive conduct, leaves a sad and painful legacy for most of the characters who are mostly disillusioned and alienated.

The most obvious exception is the newcomer Baba, who comes with a certain innocence and naivety, a certain moral expectation that is refreshing. There is also a sense in the end that love transcends the negativity, not simply the romance of young love but the committed love of a couple who will strengthen each other and face life’s challenges together in a committed and increasingly honest way. To 02-03-16.

Tim Crow

01-03-16 

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