Theatre Review - 'My City'

Posted by Alexander Hay

Laurence Green reviews Steven Poliakoff's latest offering at the Almeida Theatre, a tale of troubled school days revisited, starring Tracy Ullman, David Troughton, Tom Riley and Sian Brooke

 A multi-faceted city of many parts

How would you feel if, 15 years after you last saw them, you ran into the one person who had the biggest influence on your life?

This is the situation facing the protagonists of Stephen Poliakoff’s ambitious new play My City at the Almeida Theatre in Islington N1.

On a dusky evening, old friends Richard and Julie find their primary school headmistress lying on a park bench in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral. As they become reacquainted with her and the other teachers that helped shape them, memories of their vivid and imaginative lessons come to life and their tales of London inspire Richard and Julie once more.

This is Poliakoff’s first new theatre play (he also directed it) for over a decade and celebrates the power of storytelling to raise the human spirit. His themes are familiar: nostalgia yearning, the search for lost connections, and the layers of a buried past that lie in the dark city. Poliakoff, in particular, makes the point that good teachers can change young lives for the better.

Yet this is a work which simmers along quietly without ever coming to the boil. At times it is engaging and slightly sinister, at other times ponderous and preachy.

What gives the drama the kiss of life and sustains our interest for2 ¾ hours are the excellent performances by the versatile Tracy Ullman, making a welcome return to the stage after too long an absence and bringing a winning combination of charm and authority, with a hint of menace, to the role of the inspirational former primary school headmistress, Tom Riley as her former pupil, whose life was transformed when he was a young boy suffering from attention deficit disorder, and with a stammer, and Sian Brooke as his best friend at school who overcame her dyslexia with the help of the headmistress’s kindness and expert storytelling. Strong support is provided by Sorchu Cusack and David Troughton as the other old teachers. In the case of the latter, a cherished toy aeroplane evokes memories of his Jewish family’s enforced exile from pre-war Vienna.

A further word of praise must go to Lez Brotherston whose atmospheric set of a nocturnal London skyscape makes you look at the metropolis with fresh eyes.

Plays until November 5

Box office: 0207 359 4404

Press: Janine Shalom at Premier PR 0207 292 8330

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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