Linda Gray at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Terms of Endearment: Dan Gordon, Arts Theatre Cambridge until September 29

Terms of Endearment: Dan Gordon, Arts Theatre Cambridge until September 29

When Linda Gray was a weekly institution on our TV screens her character, Sue Ellen in Dallas, was invariably being pulled through the emotional wringer.

Women who came into contact with JR Ewing usually were.

Emotion is ladled into this romantic stage piece - the growing and softening ties, over thirty years, between a controlling mother, Aurora (Linda Gray), and her daughter Emma (Suranne Jones). Then there's the initially fractious relationship between Aurora and the womanising retired astronaut next door (John Bowe), and finally the death from cancer of Aurora's daughter.

Frankly though, it's rather disappointing. As football managers put it, let's take the positives out first. Linda Gray works well in the way she turns the heart of the neighbour, who rewards her by turning out to be a nice guy. John Bowe's quiet threat in the pompous oncologist's ear that he'll send the boys in if the doc doesn't do his very best for his friend's daughter is a sparkling scene - though, (and, believe me, I know) I've never come across an oncologist or a cancer ward nurse who've been anything other than brilliantly kind to both patient and family.

That's just typical of some of the credibility gaps in the script. The problem is here we have Dan Gordon's stage version, for five actors, of the film script adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel. As a play it doesn't work. There are too many undeveloped short scenes - shreds and patches, so to speak - telling a story spread over decades. It's very difficult for the cast to get the play's rhythm going.

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I know that we are meant to see how the mother-daughter bond develops over the telephone. But the play depends too much on telephone conversations. You need to have characters on stage interacting together more often than this script allows. By the interval, I didn't care about any of the three main people because I didn't know much about them.

However, the second half largely recovers the lost ground - though, to be truthful, putting in a woman with a terminal illness does smack of the writer giving himself a weepy way out.

However, it's good to see Linda Gray, as elegantly presented as ever, showing her comic gifts. There are the well-delivered outrageously selfish lines, her beating off of the groping suitor with her handbag, and her coy determination when it comes to the bedroom scene. All that, rather than the play, I'll remember.

Ivan Howlett

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