Revived at Hampstead Theatre where it debuted in 1999, Alan Plater’s Peggy For You presents a day in the office of theatrical agent Peggy Ramsay (Tamsin Greig), as she deals with a maelstrom of clients, business deals and personal crises.
With the play’s action taking place over such a short space of time, the narrative takes abrupt changes of direction and wanders through conversations. Some threads are left unconcluded—Peggy’s new client Simon (Josh Finan), for example, never gets a definitive, conclusive answer to his timid question “what is a play?”. Rather than leaving the audience frustrated, these unfinished conversations instead contribute to the sense that the chaos and confusion of the events on stage are commonplace, and simply just a part of daily life at Peggy Ramsay Limited.
A barefoot Greig holds court over the stage for almost the entire length of the show, in a powerhouse performance that doesn’t let up for a moment. Completely at ease in the character, her stage presence is outstanding, holding the audience captive for the two hour runtime whilst switching between fast-paced humour and far harsher, more emotionally driven moments. Peggy is a beacon in this world of constant activity, her dynamic personality unflappable in the face of anything around her. The constant barrage of phone calls and unexpected visitors does little to affect her, taking it all in her stride and treating tragedies as the smallest of inconveniences.
Leaning into the tragic angle, the second act of the play eases up on the jokes, but still fits in a few laughs despite its more sombre topic. This shift to a heavier, more serious tone accentuates the talent of the cast and really lets Greig shine. Critiqued and questioned, the character of Peggy becomes more complex and nuanced as the second act goes on. The changing dynamic between Peggy and Henry (Trevor Fox) are a real highlight, with tension between the two being constantly built and diffused throughout the act. Verging on, but never quite reaching, a fight, the two maintain the suspense of their scenes together masterfully.
Despite Peggy’s vocal and repeated dismissal of overdone sets, the attention to detail in designer James Cotterill’s set places the play perfectly within its world. The stage is bisected, with Peggy’s office lit by warm lamps and wide windows, while the waiting room uses harsher strip lighting. Scripts and folders overflow from shelves and desks onto chairs and floors, and posters celebrating Peggy’s clients’ successes paper the walls. The crowded nature of the set gives it its own charisma, making it feel lived in and real.
A question pervading the narrative, “what is a play”, is answered once with the idea of a bridge, taking the audience across to another world. Peggy For You certainly achieves that definition, through excellent design, direction, and performances to match.
Peggy For You will run at Hampstead Theatre until 29 January. Tickets can be purchased online.
Words by Lucy Carter
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