Brighton Beach Memoirs

Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon - A NODA review by Dee Sharpe

 I had the usual warm welcome from the front of house team who introduced me to director Sheila Nye. She explained that Brighton Beach Memoirs had made a lasting impression on her over 30 years ago, and that during a trip to New York she had visited the actual Brighton Beach.

The story is about a family of Jewish immigrants living in Brooklyn during the time of economic depression and the rise of Fascism in Europe. The family consists of parents, Kate and Jack, sons Stanley and Eugene, Kate’s widowed sister, Blanche and her children, Nora and Laurie. Overcrowding and financial issues create tensions observed by Eugene, a hormonal teenager with a passion for baseball, particularly his hometown team the Dodgers. He also has a passion for his cousin Nora and is preoccupied with thoughts of sex. He shares his observations with the audience as well as making notes throughout.

The play was staged in the round, allowing the audience to feel intimately involved with the household. The single setting was the home. Two beds on each side of an invisible divide were bedrooms, a large oval dining table was the dining room, an armchair, chaise longue, occasional table and radio, the living room, and there was an outside yard with a bench and wall for baseball throwing. The audience was on three sides with exits to kitchen and other areas of the ‘house’ on the fourth. The meal at the table was brilliantly staged with real food and drink and an authentic family meal atmosphere. Moments such as Eugene trying to hide his detested liver; and ducking under the table to look at Nora’s legs, added generous helpings of fun.

It was an intense play, full of family tensions interspersed with humour. The actors created totally believable relationships with all the love, loyalty and conflicts of a real family. Their accents were also excellent.

Ewan Fairchild as witty, histrionic Eugene had charm, vivacity and a smile that lit the room. He gave an accomplished performance which had the audience empathising, understanding and laughing with him. Sharona Key-Barry created a rounded, sincere matriarch combining motherly exasperation, wifely anxiety and overprotectiveness with stifled resentment. Trevor Hodgson gave an impeccable performance as her husband Jack, juggling his roles of husband, brother in law, father, uncle/father figure and breadwinner, trying to keep peace in the family while worrying about the escalating situation in Europe. Lauren Morley was believable and likeable as self-effacing, indecisive, anxious Blanche trying to build bridges with daughter Nora whose teenage angst and enthusiasm was skilfully portrayed by Saskia Monteiro. Raphael Key’s Stanley was a skilful blend of duty and feeling trapped. Marisa Meinecke was perfect as pampered, quietly mischievous Laurie.

The costumes were perfect for the era. I particularly liked Blanche’s beautiful date dress and Nora’s flared trousers and short-sleeved jumper.

This is a worthy entry in the Brighton and Hove Arts Council Drama Awards. It was an intense, sweet, funny and riveting performance which I thoroughly enjoyed.