Sarah Wooley’s new play Old Money at Hampstead theatre is full of superb performances, as well as giving its audience food for thought. It is a look at family relationships, and the role of the family, as well as inter-generational conflict. The play highlights the lack of communication and understanding that is probably at the centre of many families, especially ones covering many generations.
Forty-two-year-old Fiona (Tracy-Ann Oberman) is a member of the spoilt generation that had seen their parents prosper and expected to continue to climb the social ladder, but her aspirations are above her means. Burdened by a layabout husband (Timothy Watson), Fiona continually acts like a spoilt, petulant child and her husband is equally juvenile. The play is set in 2008, and this seems to be the first time that they’ve had to behave like adults or take responsibility – but they are failing to rise to the challenge, relying on handouts from Fiona’s mum Joyce. The play neatly captures a generation’s selfish sense of entitlement to a lifestyle that is out of its reach, but also the unfairness of the economic crisis that is hitting it hard.
In contrast to her daughter, newly widowed Joyce (the superb Maureen Lipman) is financially independent, and blossoming as she sheds the ‘mask’ that has been stifling her since she married. Joyce was married off and had children, she is still supporting her daughter as well as looking after her grandchildren, and she is now facing the prospect of being expected to look after her mother. Yet in shedding the burdens imposed on her by others, Lipman depicts a woman who is gradually being liberated after being stifled her whole life.
In the programme Wooley reflects on how people’s sympathies might vary between these largely unsympathetic characters depending on their age, but as a 21 year old – a generation only represented by Candy (Nadia Clifford), a character not directly involved in the family dynamic, my sympathies tended to rest with Joyce. She’s clearly a woman who has reached the end of her tether in regards to giving but never getting anything back. Yet I think that this sympathy may also be due to Lipman’s remarkable performance which stood out, amongst a strong ensemble cast, as the backbone of the play.