REVIEW: Topless Mum, Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn

PUBLISHED: 11:41 19 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:09 07 September 2010

Three star rating An injured soldier, back from service in Afghanistan, sells a disturbing picture to a tabloid. But all is not what it seems… Ron Hutchinson s fast-paced satire on manipulation in the modern world explicitly acknowledges its parallels wit

Three star rating

An injured soldier, back from service in Afghanistan, sells a disturbing picture to a tabloid. But all is not what it seems...

Ron Hutchinson's fast-paced satire on manipulation in the modern world explicitly acknowledges its parallels with the Mirror debacle of 2004, in which the tabloid published photos of British soldiers abusing an Iraqi. The pictures were subsequently shown to be false. The case led to Piers Morgan's departure as editor and threw up difficult questions about the conduct of the press and the disparity between what is expected of soldiers - the code of honour - and the fighting and killing they are asked to carry out.

Topless Mum (the title a nod to the salacious chattiness of tabloid headlines) takes on those questions, but although still topical, they're no longer fresh. At times, the play seems to be simply a rehash of four-year-old news. That's not helped by the way Hutchinson has drawn his characters as 'types', not caricature, but not far off. There's the aggressive, promiscuous male journo, the streetwise working-class Northern lass, the 'one-of-the-lads' soldier.

Nonetheless, Topless Mum is well-constructed. From the moment Barry, the soldier, lunges on stage, his crutches looking as much a potential weapon as support, the play whips through its paces. The first laugh comes at just the second line and the twists and turns of the plots are skilfully delivered.

Giles Fagan is engaging as the energetic, legs-planted-widely-apart, news editor, Kyle and Sylvestra Le Touzel is a conflicted yet deadpan Major Kennedy. Star of the show was Louise Kempton as the pink-tracksuited Tiffany, Bolton army wife (and eponymous heroine) with a cunning plan and a bolshy attitude.

Other performances were less convincing. Alistair Wilkinson, as Barry, was physically impressive. His strength and sense of bottled frustration came across well, as did his vulnerability when wife Tiffany betrayed a confidence. But it's vital for this character to convey the sense that, under the surface, he's fragmenting, and that didn't come over. Similarly Emma Lowndes, as tabloid hack Annie, while fluent and attractive on stage, didn't endow her character - the journalist who will do anything for a story - with enough steel.

But despite the flaws, the play is worth seeing. There's real commitment and energy from the actors and the dialogue is fluid and funny. And with British soldiers still out in Iraq and Afghanistan, maybe it's time to be repeat questions that have already been asked - but not yet answered.

Until June 28.

Katie Masters


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