Review: Old Money, Hampstead Theatre

“Twelve funerals I’ve been to this year. Twelve and it’s only August”

There’s something of a delayed reaction feel to Sarah Wooley’s new play Old Money in the way that it explores the relationship between the generations now that it can no longer be assumed that wealth will continue to increase in the way it always has. I say delayed reaction because it feels like a subject that been dealt with by other writers like Mike Bartlett and Stephen Beresford, but neither had quite so comic a take as Wooley, a first time playwright, has here. She wraps her version in the tale of Joyce, widowed after 40 years of marriage and given an unexpected new lease of life, but it is one which doesn’t go down well with the various members of her family.

It is a play completely driven by Maureen Lipman’s excellent central performance as Joyce. Her delivery of the material is always so note-perfect and able to wring just the right amount of humour that it is close to a comic masterpiece. And as she travels on her journey of self-(re)-discovery through trips to the opera and drinking sessions with friendly young strippers, there’s also something rather touching about the reminder that it is never too late to learn things about oneself and Terry Johnson’s production manages to convey this without veering towards the patronising.

I had more problems with how she connected with the rest of the play though, in particular the supporting characters like Tracy-Ann Overman’s Fiona, highly materialistic and determined of her right to make endless demands of her mother. Pregnant with her third child, saddled with a feckless husband and an unmanageable mortgage, hers is the unlikeable role against which Joyce’s new-found freedom is strongly contrasted but it is a strangely sour taste that is left in the mouth as the price she exacts on her own family as she strikes her merry way at the end feels misjudged.

So something of a fascinating piece rather than a necessarily compelling one and thus perhaps a little intriguing in how it made its way onto the Hampstead main stage, but Lipman’s performance makes it worth a trip.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 12th January

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