Review: Peggy For You, Hampstead Theatre ★★★★☆

“What is a play?” asks the young playwright Simon (Josh Finan) on being told that his play isn’t a play by the acerbic theatrical agent Peggy Ramsay (Tamsin Greig), to whom he has been summoned on the strength of his submission. A play is like a long bridge, she says – specifically the Humber Bridge. A play must take the audience from one side of the water and through the mist to the other side, to somewhere the audience has never been before.

Richard Wilson’s revival of Alan Plater’s Peggy For You, first performed here at Hampstead Theatre in 1999 starring Maureen Lipman, is a funny thing in that it doesn’t quite meet it’s own definition of a play. Do we learn anything new here? Not really, unless you didn’t know anything about the real life Peggy Ramsay, who was Plater’s agent too, in which case everything is new – though I don’t think that counts.

Tamsin Greig and Trevor Fox. Photo: Helen Maybanks

Instead it is a funny and moving piece of theatre that is well directed, well acted and well written, providing a welcome reprieve from the madness of the current world. Does theatre need to tell us anything new? Not always, but it should entertain us or move us – tonight, Peggy For You does both.

The play covers the events in Peggy’s office across a single day in which we meet three playwrights, each at a different stage of their career; Simon is just starting out, Philip (Jos Vantyler) is at the peak, while Henry (Trevor Fox) is on the decline. Peggy’s secretary (Danusia Samal) is there too, referred to as Tessa by Peggy, despite the real Tessa having left the job months ago. The supporting cast do well, though Samal has a difficult job with the underwritten Tessa – it seems Plater paid as much attention to the character as Peggy does in the play. Her interaction with each character suggests the challenge that dealing with the real Peggy must have been.

Tamsin Greig. Photo: Helen Maybanks

Greig is scintillating as Peggy – she is acerbic, yes, but sensuous and endearing too, and above all extremely funny. It may be a period piece, and some of the references are of their time, but the jokes still land under Wilson’s pacy direction and he hasn’t fallen for the trap of trying to draw connections to modern times. There are no knowing nods to Donald Trump for instance, as seems to be in vogue. The production recognises that it is time capsule to the late 60’s and makes it work. The stage too is a triumph; its two roomed office, theatre poster lined walls, a two bar electric fire, the stained carpet and manuscript upon manuscript on the shelves capture the mood perfectly.

So, we may not learn anything new but between Greig and Wilson, Peggy For You brings Hampstead Theatre’s 60th anniversary season to an entertaining conclusion.

Peggy For You is at Hampstead Theatre until 29 January