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Two-hander a breath of fresh air

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Live with Ivy
Director: Nicholas Ellenbogen
Cast: Nicholas Ellenbogen
and Claire Berlein
Venue: Rosebank Theatre
until: December 21
Rating: ****


Trips down memory lane are tricky material for theatre, since they all too easily become syrupy or maudlin. In the confident hands of veteran theatre-maker Nicholas Ellenbogen, however, the two-hander titled Live with Ivy provides its audience with an evening of entertainment that is sheer delight, a happy fusion of reminiscence, laughter and gentle satire.

Ellenbogen’s script is replete with poetic evocations of Malawi in the 1950s as seen through the eyes of Ivy, a strictly nurtured English schoolgirl sent to con- valesce with relatives after contracting typhoid.

The culture shock she experiences is both liberating and disconcerting, and it is not only the laid-back, beer-quaffing colonial way of life that complements this pre-teen’s hitherto sclerotic education; it is the bond established with her flamboyant Uncle Rex, an ex-actor turned coffee-grower.

Their evolving relationship is traced with delicacy and humour in the course of this play’s hour-long duration, the time shifting from the present (somewhere in the 1980s in London) to the past in Malawi 32 years previously. The dialogue is supple, and so natural that the audience has the illusion of eavesdropping a real-life conversation.

Both characters are completely authentic, the girl’s innocence forming an appealing contrast to the uncle’s breadth of experience and worldly wisdom.

Weaned from ginger beer to stronger beverages, coaxed into skinny-dipping in the lake, and with her narrow childish horizon widening to an adult’s perspective of life, Ivy returns to England a very different young person.

Claire Berlein (Ivy) and Ellenbogen himself (Rex) work magic with the script as they maximise its subtlety and wit. Berlein gives a particularly well-judged reading of her persona, avoiding the several clichés attendant on adult portrayal of a pre-adolescent.

The play is not merely a remi- niscence of a long-vanished way of life; there is the additional theme of choices, as Ivy is tempted to opt for acting in preference to the practice of law for which she is intended by her family.

This underpins the apparent levity of the subject with elements of suspense and the nostalgia arising from regret at decisions rightly or wrongly made. There is also a prolonged satire of colonial snobbery which is highly diverting, although it could do with curtailment.

Live with Ivy is a breath of fresh air in the current theatre scene, and its uncomplicated, intelligent good humour is ideal festive fare.

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