BWW Review: PARADISE, Hampstead Theatre
Dusty Hughes' new play, after a long stint as a screenwriter, sees Hampstead Theatre putting together veterans of the venue. From Alice Hamilton at the direction (at the helm of Every Day I Make Greatness Happen earlier in the season) to Sara Kestelman (Filthy Business, among others), the team is almost fully composed of artists who've previously worked at the address, including Hughes, who premiered Bad Language in 1983 starring Alan Rickman.
Paradise is set in one of the gardens of Elite Homes, the best there is in luxury retirement living. Here, Goose (Kestleman) and Meakin (Geoffrey Freshwater) are the well-known rascals of the lot. They like to sneak out to drink gin and gossip while Goose tends to her flowers and reminisces about their youth together. Living in the home is, however, very expensive and the new management is adamant about making their guests aware of it.
Freshwater and Kestelman are delightful. They own Hughes's one-liners with campness and brazenness, offering a duo unashamed of who they are and have been. They're irreverent in their portrayals, Platonic soulmates who get on each other's nerves and yet complement one another perfectly.
Where Meakin is singled out for being gay, Goose is the one who's supported him since his younger days in Soho with his lovers; where her frailty and eccentric tendencies lead her to act out, he centres her and mediates with the management. It's the actors' chemistry that makes the play work seamlessly, letting the audience into their private jokes and making them voyeurs of their last stretch in life.
The supporting cast is equally detailed. Claire Lams brings all the stress and pressure of a new manager who wants to be the change, while Rebekah Hinds' youthful and bubbly energy as the nurse stabilises her superior's strictness. Hamilton balances the different characters with taste, doing a wonderful job fine-tuning the personality clashes that might turn the comedy into a farce if not adjusted properly.
Anna Reid proves herself again with a gorgeous set design, which turns the Downstairs auditorium into a bona fide heaven. The stone wall, hanging branches, astroturf and flower pots paint the delicate picture of solace and languidness one would expect of a Platinum Package.
Artistic director Edward Hall concludes his winter season softly, placing his public in front of uncomfortable truths. Paradise manages to be an anthem to the resilience of the joie de vivre and to speak volumes of the weight of growing old in a privileged world.
Photo credit: Robert Day