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Hot Lane review at Spode Works, Stoke-on-Trent – ‘a talented cast’

Emily Pithon and Andy Cryer in Hot Lane at Spode Works. Photo: Andrew Billington
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It’s 1956 and a prodigal daughter returns to the Potteries after 13 years of mysterious exile in Deborah McAndrew’s latest work for Claybody Theatre. The mystery, however, doesn’t last long.

As with last year’s absorbing drama Dirty Laundry, Hot Lane takes place amid the draughty brickwork of the regenerated Spode factory, a site that bestows potbank-era poignancy on these tales of a now-vanished Stoke.

A bustling dance hall (populated by a lively community cast in suits, seamed stockings and floral frocks) gives way to two domestic interiors. The excellent Angela Bain reprises her role as patient matriarch Frances Berry, whose cramped but cosy kitchen is a place of sanctuary for both expectant young mother Nora (Madeleine Gray, energetically pissed-off at her feckless husband Brian) and the returning Edith.

In the latter role, Emily Pithon generates determination and dignity in the face of gossiping neighbours and the machinations of suave potbank owner Richard Warham (Philip Wright reprising the role with reptilian ruthlessness) and his prim spinster sister Agnes, on hand with schemes and Welsh cakes.

Despite the title, there isn’t much palpable sense of passion and pressure between the protagonists of Hot Lane. Much of the 90-minute running time is spent on explicatory dialogue that strains to fill in narrative gaps before tying everything up into an implausibly tidy and sentimental conclusion.

Scenes free of schematic plot development, like the naming of Nora’s newborn (“baby Gary”) have a much more relatable and spontaneous lightness of touch.

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Stoke-set drama with a talented cast and detailed design that's hamstrung by exposition