Review: Sign of the Times, by Tim Firth, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until Jan 31, then New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, February 24-28.

Robert Gill (Frank), Thomas Pickles (Alan) in Sign of the Times at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmun

Robert Gill (Frank), Thomas Pickles (Alan) in Sign of the Times at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Photo: © Keith Mindham Photogr

In life, reality doesn’t always match up to the dreams and expectations of young people setting out on a career. Sacrifices and compromises have to be made along the way to support yopur family and pay the bills but hopefully everyone is able to shape their world enough to come out on top in the end.

Thomas Pickles (Alan), Robert Gill (Frank) in Sign of the Times at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmund

Thomas Pickles (Alan), Robert Gill (Frank) in Sign of the Times at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Photo: © Keith Mindham Photogr

Tim Firth’s Sign of the Times is a show about just such a conflict of ideas. It’s a simply staged two-hander which introduces us to two very believable people who are both at a crossroads in life.

Firth’s comic drama is a timely look at employment from the perspective of a young work experience lad, Alan, and the 50 year old manager, Frank, who after 30 years at the signage company Forshaw’s slowly discovers that the world and his firm have moved on without him.

The touching drama explores the relationship between the two men and director Karen Simpson firmly resists the temptation to allow the characters to wallow in self-pity and instead seeks out the truth and the comedy to be found in life and unrealised dreams.

Robert Gill as Frank and Thomas Pickles as Alan seize the opportunity to bring to life a pair of quirky individuals that avoid the pitfalls of caricature. These are both men you want to spend time with and you realise as the play unfolds that both have talents which are not being utilised by their work.


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Happily, this is not a play to linger on maudlin sentimentality, Tim Firth is too clever a writer for that, as evidenced by his work with Calendar Girls and last year’s This Is My Family, but he is a thoughtful playwright and inbetween the laughs and the witty observations, Sign of the Times asks some timely questions about the changing nature of employment.

Modern theatre can have a lot of glitzy embellishments: be it spectacular lighting displays, moving sets, explosions or dazzling audio-visual displays but the true test of a play is when it can hold a full theatre spellbound with just the power of the writing and the performances of the actors, happily this beautifully staged production is just such a show.

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Andrew Clarke

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