TV Review: Loving Miss Hatto

“Young people make promises because they don’t know what life is like”

Housewife, 49 was one of the highlights of my TV viewing last Christmas, quite how I had missed it first time round I do not know and so once I saw that Victoria Wood had penned a new drama, Loving Miss Hatto, I was determined not to leave it quite so long this time round. Based on a story from the New Yorker on the strange but real-life case of classical music fraud around pianist Joyce Hatto, this was a beautifully modulated piece of drama with a light sweetness and just enough of the trademark Wood humour, interwoven with such melancholic depths of human tragedy.

Starting in the 1950s, we meet Joyce Hatto as a rehearsal pianist in whom self-described musical impresario William Barrington-Coupe (or Barrie for short) spotted much potential. But as something of a wideboy and of a conman, his dreams of moulding Joyce into a top-rank concert pianist never quite came to fruition, something exacerbated by her stage fright. The story then flicked forward to the 2000s where embittered by the frustrations of life, Joyce is now dying of cancer and unable to play. With the dawn of the digital age and in light of a flurry of interest in Hatto on a messageboard, Barrie hit upon the idea of satisfying the demand for recordings of her work by releasing a series of CDs. Only problem was, there were no recordings and Barrie was passing off other pianists’ work as his wife’s.

Both timezones were beautifully realised. The hopeful youthfulness of the 50s scenes were perfectly captured by Maimie McCoy and Rory Kinnear (with some appalling hair), him determined to do anything, no matter how ill-advised, for his beloved and her trying to ensure she didn’t end up like her mother (an archetypal but still excellent performance from a purse-lipped Phoebe Nicholls) yet unable to really break through the emotional repression of the age. This was reinforced by older Joyce, a wonderful turn from Francesca Annis all bitter recrimination and sharp edges and all too close to the matriarch she was trying to escape, but one who jumped at the chance at a second bite of the cherry as Wood’s creative license made Hatto a witting accomplice in the fraud.

The real life Barrie (still alive) is adamant that she never knew a thing but Wood’s evocation of the man, played with astounding sensitivity by Alfred Molina, as someone willing to do anything for his wife in her final months and a man somehow lost in the fantastical world he had created has a deep tragedy about him. The way in which he struggles to break the old routines after her death, his determination to protect her reputation, the depth of his love for his wife, it all made for an emotionally disturbing ending that lingered long in the mind. Victoria Wood really is building a considerable case for her work as a dramatist to be taken as seriously as her comedy – iPlayer it now.

Review: After Troy, Shaw Theatre

“Was there another Troy for her to burn?”

After Troy sees Glyn Maxwell creating a new play out of Euripides’ two tragedies, Hecuba and The Women of Troy, both dealing with the experience of the women left behind in the aftermath of the Trojan War with marauding Greek soldiers an ever-present threat. Hecuba and her daughters are the prisoners of warrior Agamemnon and vile king Mestor and as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of the men in their lives, kings, husbands, father, brothers, sons whilst waiting to be delivered into a life of slavery, there are many horrors still yet to come for Hecuba.

Maxwell is a poet and this is evident in the lyrical density of his verse which is tightly constructed with lots of repetition and synchronised dialogue aiming for an epic feel, but slightly undermined by the modern sensibilities that have been introduced in the desire to create something new, the humour and particularly the heavy use of expletives didn’t always feel appropriate and become quite wearing. But it is not just a lyrical piece, it is heavily influenced by movement, the women often express themselves through the medium of dance which becomes as important a part of their vocabulary as words. This is effective at first but as we come to realise that it is only the women who take part in this ritual dancing, the ‘Ancient’ as it were and it is the men who get to swear, wear modern costumes and be funny, the balance of After Troy never quite finds its equilibrium.

The strength of the performances helps to somewhat overcome the density of the material: Eve Matheson’s Hecuba is a force to be reckoned with, a grieving vengeful woman finding dignity where she can in the oppression wrought by the Greek men holding them prisoner. I also enjoyed Rebecca Smith-Williams’ willowy prophetic Cassandra and the beautifully compassionate turn from Oscar Peace as Talthybius, the Greek scribe who comes close to understanding the true horror that his people are wreaking on Troy.

There were moments where it all gets a bit relentless, the subjugation of these women to the masculine military might pushes and pushes but without a real sense of purpose, it is not immediately clear what Maxwell is trying to achieve here. The timelessness of war and the effect is has on people is an enduring truth, but making his victims so recognisably Ancient Greek lessens the impact. But there is a strangely hypnotic quality to proceedings, with its flashes of dark humour in the perils of not listening to women and the power of Matheson’s performance in particular, that stirred something deep inside me, but this was a realisation that hit me on the way home – it would have been much nicer to have that response to the drama that was playing out in front of me.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 23rd April then touring to the Lowry, Salford and the Stephen Joseph, Scarborough