Listen: a play by Paul Ferguson and Miller Theare Productions at The Etcetera

Review By Carmel Shortall

Listen is a tender and affecting family drama; a slice of working class life written by Paul Ferguson and staged by Miller Theatre Productions. The play explores the bonds between children and parents, particularly that between father and son and, as such, it is a return to the world of Miller, an earlier play by Ferguson.    

Listen opens in a back garden: Alfie sits in his chair beside a flower pot full of fag-ends while Irene takes in the washing. Neither will answer the phone.  Before long they are chasing each other round the garden giggling and about to head to the bedroom when the phone rings again. Alfie answers and we hear, “What’s he done this time?”

On the other side of the stage, a young man in a Fulham shirt stands listening to the traffic. This is Jason, the subject of the telephone call, as an adult.   

Sarah, a nurse leads an older Alfie, now in a home, to his seat on the other side of the stage. He sits listening to her chatter. We go back and forth in time and place while Jason grows up, meets someone, starts a family and Alfie sits remembering his Irene.

From young Jay, later Jason – both in Fulham shirts – we learn that Alfie is his stepdad but “he is my dad,” Jason realises fiercely. He visits Alfie and tells him about his life. Alfie wishes he could stay longer and not hurry off. These scenes are poignant and tender – all the more so when we realise that they are not talking at cross-purposes at all…

“All you got to do is listen. Listen with your head and your heart.”

Listen mixes dance, movement, music and drama as well as imaginative use of props to tell the story of an ordinary family. Only Jason inhabits the entire stage, in front of a graffiti-scrawled wall, at home as a boy, with his father in the old people’s home and even ascending the steps beside the audience to tell us his thoughts. Director Charlotte Chinn keeps the emphasis on the central characters, allowing Alex Sycamore as Jason and Charlie Carter as Alfie to build a relationship in stages throughout the play. Both are excellent but Charlie Carter deserves special mention for his sensitive and restrained portrayal of Alfie as an old man, conjured up with only a palsied hand as he sits with his memories. (I may have had a tear in my eye as I left the Etcetera.)

Charlotte Chinn also plays chatty and cheerful nurse, Sarah, while different generations of the Doyle family – Tina, Sam and Eliza Doyle play Irene, Jay and Jason’s wife respectively.

Listen runs at the Etcetera till Sunday 26th August, the last night of the fringe, at 7.30pm. Tickets are £7.50.

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