Mr Bailey’s Minder

Mr Bailey’s Minder
By Debra Oswald. The Theatre on Chester. Director: Kaye Lopez. 6th – 28th April, 2018

‘Tis a pity Debra Oswald has stopped writing for the stage, because, despite the success of her TV, film and more recently her novels, the characters she created for the theatre have an authenticity that gives directors, actors and audiences much to think about and much to love. They are enduring and the issues they face transcend generations.

In Mr Bailey’s Minder is one of them. Director Kaye Lopez sees it as “… a deeply moving piece about friendship, ego, art and the secret longing for a better life … shame and judgement, love and forgiveness”. That so many ideas can be portrayed by four characters in two short hours is a tribute to Oswald’s perspicacious insights and discerning characterisation.

Leo Bailey is a famous artist who has sunk into alcoholic dementia. He lives in boozy isolation in a dilapidated house carved into a cliff. Offensive and cruel, he has driven away his family, apart from the eldest, Margot, who, manages his dwindling estate from a distance. She too has suffered his malicious tongue and spitefulness but a strange sense of duty impels her to provide for him. Enter Therese, a young offender, who takes on the role of Leo’s ‘minder’. A little rough around the edges, but determined not to go back to gaol, she takes on the task of carer with a will, eventually breaking through Leo’s obnoxiousness, and, in the process, finding herself.

Alan and Cate Cunningham have transformed the stage into the mouldering kitchen-sitting room of Leo’s house. The rock face forms one wall, and a broken stained-glass window lets in the changing light, designed by Wal Moore. Paintings hang from the paint spattered walls and discarded canvasses lean against them. Empty bottles litter every surface. A glass panelled door opens as Margot introduces Therese to the house – and the unusual job for which she has applied.

As Margot, Paula Searle is suitably cold and aloof. She is tense, distant, completely ill-at-ease in this house she used to call home. She suffers Leo’s verbal abuse with dogged stiffness, her sense of duty only just overpowering the deep hurt and embarrassment of his vicious insults.

Christopher Clark, as Leo, delivers those insults out of a reeling, alcoholic daze. Dirty and dishevelled, he lurches and shakes, cursing Margot and threatening Therese. From this stumbling stupor, Clark gradually transforms. Despite the many illnesses with which his body is wracked, Therese patiently brings him back to man he might have been.

Ben Brighton plays the double roles of Gavin, an iniquitous shark who steals Leo’s signatures, and Karl, the benign, inoffensive odd-job man who befriends Leo and Therese.

Therese is the connecting linchpin of the play – and Alex Maree King shines brightly in this role. She inhabits the role convincingly, taking Therese from hesitant, awkward street girl to understanding carer, exploring a range of emotions that lead to a growing sense of self-awareness and assurance. She moves confidently on the stage, her face and eyes adding extra depth to the dialogue she speaks so clearly and expressively.

Lopez has kept the blocking tight and the pace varied, in keeping with the different tempos of the sometimes fast and often abusive dialogue – and the few quiet, and more gentle moments that Therese and Leo share. It is a moving production that will touch the hearts of its audiences.

Carol Wimmer

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