Review: Sign Of The Times, by Tim Firth, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, February 24 2015

Robert Gill (Frank), Thomas Pickles (Alan) in Sign of the Times

Robert Gill (Frank), Thomas Pickles (Alan) in Sign of the Times - Credit: Photo: � Keith Mindham Photogr

Two men meet on a roof and at first glance they have nothing at all in common other than their job at a commercial lettering factory. One is Frank (Robert Gill), a man who has played it by the book for over thirty years while harbouring an apparently hopeless desire to become a novelist. The other is sixteen year old trainee Alan (Thomas Pickles) whose interests appear limited to his band Lizard and iPod. Frank gives a disinterested Alan the benefit of his considerable experience as Head of Installation at Forshaws and how it is ‘in life’ generally.

Sign of the Times by Tim Firth, with Thomas Pickles (Alan), Robert Gill (Frank)

Sign of the Times by Tim Firth, with Thomas Pickles (Alan), Robert Gill (Frank) - Credit: Photo: � Keith Mindham Photogr

Gradually the play unfolds and the tables start to turn. It is soon apparent that Alan is just young and not at all stupid and ‘gets’ Frank entirely. But what if Frank’s aspirations are revealed? Will Alan ridicule him? As Frank himself says God has given him all the ambition but no talent. The two begin a dialogue and, with the help of the illuminated lettering, thrash out an understanding.

Tennessee Williams famously said that the play is not stopped by the final curtain but should carry on in the mind of the audience. Perhaps the two-hander Sign of the Times is one of those. Unequivocal praise is due to the actors but while both characters are utterly believable the script was at times dull and inconsistent: in Act 1 Alan has an iPod but in Act 2 he is using a walkie-talkie on the shop floor. Yet the premise of youth encountering middle age is perennial and worth exploring. Thomas Pickles gave Alan an air of unsentimental sympathy and Robert Gill imbued Frank with a wry acceptance. When the two meet five years later Frank looks back and tells Alan ‘at 16 you don’t know fear’ but he, Frank, sees fear everywhere.

This is a play to watch and enjoy in the moment and ponder afterwards about age, work and stifled ambition.

Carol Twinch

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