Theatre Review: Maeve Binchy’s MINDING FRANKIE The Lowry, Salford

Clare Barrett and Steve Blount in MINDING FRANKIE.

Clare Barrett and Steve Blount in MINDING FRANKIE. Photo Credit: Breda Cashe

Maeve Binchy’s MINDING FRANKIE is a sweet, heartwarming story that asks what it really takes to be a parent

Maeve Binchy’s last novel MINDING FRANKIE has been brought to life on stage in a new adaption by Shay Linehan. 

Based on the 2010 novel of the same name, MINDING FRANKIE tells the story of Noel whose life is suddenly turned upside down when a former fling with tells him she’s pregnant with his baby – and that she’s going to die from cancer. Noel must raise their daughter, Frankie but social worker Moira Tierney has other ideas and is prepared to do battle for custody of the child. In order to prevail, Noel must prove that he can fill a woman’s shoes, break all the stereotypes and become the best mother than he can be.

Skillfully directed by Peter Sheridan, MINDING FRANKIE is a sweet, heartwarming story that asks what it really takes to be a parent. Only two actors play the main character and multiple smaller roles and though it’s obvious both actors – Steve Blount who plays Noel and Clare Barrett as Moira – are more than capable in their roles, it takes them a few scenes to really get into the swing of the performance. Blount initially comes across as goofy and wooden with his jokes often missing the mark and a lack of distinction between his multiple characters. Nevertheless, his portrayal is sweet and loveable. Barrett seems to distinguish between her characters more, but at times lacks warmth. However, they both seem to relax into things by act two and everything seems to flow more naturally.

On the surface, there are lots to like about MINDING FRANKIE. It is interesting to see that the social worker is not portrayed as the villain in this story, as they so often are. Instead of being a malicious character intent on breaking up families, it is easy to see where Moira is coming from here. What would be the best for Frankie, to be with her (somewhat incompetent) father or a capable foster family? It brings up some interesting questions which, while they could have been explored further at points, adds an interesting angle to the story.

Clare Barrett and Steve Blount in MINDING FRANKIE. Photo Credit: Adrian Langtry

The actors also portray the relationships between characters very convincingly, and it’s interesting to see them grow and develop throughout the performance. This is the strongest aspect of the play, as the audience becomes increasingly fond of Noel and Moira. We also become invested in Noel and Frankie’s relationship, despite seeing why a foster family might be good for her. The conflict is cleverly written and interesting to watch and though the infant Frankie never actually appears, her presence is made obvious by Ciara Murane’s cleverly designed set with its pastel colours and childlike aesthetic. It gives the whole play a childish, innocent edge.

Yet while MINDING FRANKIE is entertaining, it doesn’t really take it in any other directions that haven’t been seen before. It doesn’t delve particularly deep into the issues raised, which is sometimes felt needed, often taking the easy road by skimming some of the more difficult issues. As such, some of the scenes that should have been emotional and poignant felt somewhat shallow at times.

That said, overall MINDING FRANKIE is a sweet, heartfelt story with interesting characters. It doesn’t often push the boundaries as much as it could have, making it a loveable and fun piece, without being too heavy.

3 out of 5 stars

Maeve Binchy’s MINDING FRANKIE runs at The Lowry, Salford until 23 June 2018.