It is a delicious premise - a woman, no longer young, finds the courage to be herself after years spent fulfilling the requirements of others. Jenny Joseph’s popular poem, Warning, did something similar decades ago. Her old woman would express her rebellion by wearing purple and “a red hat that doesn’t go”. For Maureen Lipman’s newly widowed Joyce, the symbolic garment is a scarlet coat bought in Bond Street.
Tracy Ann Oberman (Fiona), Maureen Lipman (Joyce) and Timothy Watson (Graham) in Old Money at Hampstead Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
The expensive location is important, partly because to move away from M&S is itself significant, and partly because young writer Sarah Wooley is acutely aware of the economic tensions in the family she has created. It is 2008, and survival is difficult for Joyce’s pregnant daughter Fiona, her hopeless, would-be musician husband and their two children.
Joyce is taken for granted by materialistic Fiona and elderly, vicious-tongued and ailing mother Pearl. To free her, Wooley sets up a far-fetched plot involving an unlikely friendship with Candy, a sparky but vulnerable stripper, who has all the time in the world for Joyce.
Their encounters are poignant, however, with Nadia Clifford endowing Candy with geeky charm and Lipman moving, without showiness, from pale-faced silence to warm pleasure in her new-found generosity and adventurousness. The filmic structure of very short scenes is handled skilfully by director Terry Johnson and designer Tim Shortall.
Wooley has a good line in hard-hearted banter - Fiona and Pearl are as huggable as cacti in a suburban window box. Helen Ryan and Tracy-Ann Oberman, respectively, play them with relish. But would such selfish, gobby people really keep all those family secrets? And would Joyce, “wild” when young, have meekly spent 45 years married to the wrong man?