|"Knitting needles unravel purling one-liners"|
by Tim Mottershead for remotegoat on 28/11/11
The action of Paul Kenney's new play 'Love Shy Neighbour' took place on a wide, open stage. To the left featured Manchester backstreet front room of retired couple Liz and John Campbell (Betty Webster and Bob Young). Despite the brusque indifference displayed by the heartily bickering pair, nevertheless one sensed a mutual, if grudging, affection. We next met Liz's (though certainly not John's) best friend Annie Hardkiss (Norma Kelly): these 2 lifelong (tea-addicted) friends and professional busy-bodies forming the nucleus of the knitting club, the importance of which had already been underlined by the introductory background song "Pack up your troubles in your knitting bag..." The club meets formally in the cafe (stage right which later doubled as the pub) where we discovered them on the cusp of repeating their triumph of the annual 'knit-off'. However with the arrival of a brash new neighbour Kate Jenson (Julie Parton) variously described as a trollop/hussy etc., events seemed poised to unravel.
Billed as a Northern-Comedy, perhaps some would complain that many of the play's themes seemed 'dated', and well-trodden, yet with each generation left to make their own mistakes, many of the situations still rang true. What mattered more was the way in which the author was able to provide a new relevance or contemporary twist. Numerous examples spring to mind, of which the following two must suffice. One was John's valiant efforts to grapple with modern technology, notably computers and the internet; variously dubbed the interweb/spiderweb etc. The other was Liz's rant that her formerly respectable area had now declined to the extent it was no longer safe to use public transport for fear of "Al-kea terrorists"! Indeed humour was invariably applied throughout, to 'leaven the bread' in dealing with a number of weighty and serious issues, with the characters torn between necessity of change and the comforting balm of inertia. A number of purling one-liners were heard when John, in jocular and avuncular mood, reeled off some of his 40-odd rules of marriage (although he seemed often at variance with his own advice!) to young Adam Jenson (Chris Taylor). But perhaps the finest line was the following: "Survival rule number one - Never stand between two bickering women with knitting needles unless you fancy some extreme acupuncture".
The play was produced by Ed Jaundrell and Heather Briggs, with lighting from Ian Curri, whilst Paul Kenney also directed. The author seemed to have achieved his self confessed aim of writing a play which featured a lead role for a 'woman over a certain age', whilst exploring with precision whether the hard life of the bad old days was really as good as it was painted?
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