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Theatre Review An engaging demystification of a woman of substance

A big hit in the ’90s, this garrulous story of literary agent Margaret ‘Peggy’ Ramsay has lost none of it’s old charm, writes MARY CONWAY

Peggy For You
Hampstead Theatre

 

 

HAMPSTEAD Theatre concludes its recent programme of nostalgic revivals with one of its greatest hits: Peggy For You.

Originally presented by the theatre in 1999, the play is a fine-drawn portrait of literary agent Margaret (known intimately as Peggy) Ramsay whose quaint, quirky  and consciously maverick style rendered her legendary in the folklore and fables of 20th-century British theatre.  

The piece has worn wonderfully well… after all, it bears the defining trademarks of its writer, the splendid Alan Plater, who endows it with supreme comic instinct, compassion and heart. And with Tamsin Greig in the lead and Richard Wilson directing, it’s a sure-fire winner.

It could be enjoyed as easy seasonal froth, but the play is driven not by a storyline or plot but by the sheer uniqueness of the central character in which the combined talents of Plater, Greig and Wilson converge to bring us a shining star.

And, as the play progresses, so we deepen our understanding of this amazing woman, as she delivers views and opinions, advice and reprimands, observations and witticisms.

Line by line, she makes us laugh; line by line she astonishes with her idiosyncrasy; and line by line she uncovers a set of complex values that make her what she is.

The action takes place in the late 1960s in Peggy’s distinctive St Martin’s Lane office, recreated to perfection by James Cotterill. Here Peggy and her forbearing secretary (Danusia Samal) are visited by three playwrights, each at a different point on the route to success, and each representing just a sample of the clients who came into Peggy’s life over the years.

The first act is pure comedy, though with a running undercurrent of sympathy for undervalued and struggling playwrights everywhere.

The second half is darker, bringing out a much-needed conflict between blunt and penetrating Geordie writer, Henry (a beautifully real performance by Trevor Fox, surely based on Plater himself), and this woman and her seemingly erratic and arbitrary approach to client care and the realities of making money.

What emerges is further insight into the passion for art that is Peggy’s sole and only driver, and into the personal price she pays for never stepping out of her self-inflicted role.

Plays that demystify the world of theatre always seem to amuse and please audiences, and this is no exception. Peggy’s crankiness — whether innate or deliberate — can be hard on those around her and it’s difficult to forgive an intelligent woman who can’t be bothered to know where Yorkshire is exactly or why it is that all northerners don’t actually live in the same street.

However, this is not a silly in-joke; it is a play of genuine discovery that can be enjoyed at different levels, and which opens up a radical and refreshing view of the creative process — so uplifting at a time when money and business seem to be publicly all that matter. A class act.

Runs until January 29 2022. Book tickets at my.hampsteadtheatre.com or box office: (020) 7722-9301.

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