In For A Penny is Libby McArthur’s true-life tale of the unforeseen consequences of an unpaid parking ticket - how one person can fall foul of a system that sees only the facts and not the context and how one oversight can spiral to far more serious consequences.
McArthur brings a down-to-earth warmth to her delivery, talking to the audience as though we were her mates.
It’s a pretty simple story and so much of the show’s interest lies in Libby McArthur’s performance. McArthur brings a down-to-earth warmth to her delivery, talking to the audience as though we were her mates, and her delivery in a broad Scots brogue adds to play’s feeling of authenticity (though listen closely or you may miss the show’s closing line). She sketches adeptly the cast of characters around her - from the sadistic judge to the gobby, defiant delinquent Sharon - and her very mobile visage helps us understand at all times exactly how she’s feeling.
However, while McArthur is a engaging stage presence, I found it difficult to get carried away by her tale. This is partly due to her delivery - the warmth and energy occasionally stopping with an almost audible click as she shifts between sections on the show in her head - largely due to the show itself.
In For A Penny bills itself as based on a true-life story and McArthur presents it as her own, but the time-scale jumps all over the place. Its setting in Thatcher’s Britain fits with her being a young mother but seems years out of step with her claims that it happened while she was a national TV star. A minor niggle, but the drama of the piece rests largely on a recognisable face falling foul of circumstance and the struggle to pull the disparate elements of the plot together to maintain this conceit took me out of the story.
Massaging the truth for dramatic effect is perfectly acceptable but, for a show like this, it begs the question what other aspects of the true-life story have been similarly massaged? How many of the events really occurred and which, if any, of the vivid characters are based on truth? Am I watching a true story of how easy it is for anyone to fall through the cracks or a fictional drama which - if fictional - could have a little more drama?
In For A Penny won’t be bringing any massive revelations to its audience but it’s an interesting and at-times relatable story. Get past the awkward joins in the story and see it as an hour passed in McArthur’s company and it’s easy time to serve.