Theatre in Wales

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Farce with a serious underbelly...

At the Sherman

Sherman Theatre - Erogenous Zones , Sherman Theatre , October 6, 2001
It is the perhaps the convention of farcical comedy to, at times, appear wickedly ridiculous and over the top. But sometimes it can also be in danger of seeming too far-fetched and shallow, the endless array of gags merely masking a lack of true depth in the play.

Frank Vickery's script, with five characters whose lives all constantly and equally intermingle, could be seen to run the risk of skimming over issues, lacking the time to explore them in depth if all characters are to have equal status in the play.

The characters are all in their 30's and 20's and all in various stages of relationships: Lesley and Tom had a dead marriage, Tom and his mistress Alison's ten year fling was burning out, Lesley and her younger lover Andrew were still in the fresh lusty three month stage, while Andrew and his gay flatmate Michael had yet to begin. It's a complex, intriguing situation with huge potential for humour.

The play begins at a crucial moment near the end of the story with a monologue by Michael (Darren Lawrence), introducing us to the uncertain situation, before backtracking to show the lead up events of the previous two days. However, there was a feeling of déjà vu as Darren Lawrence's performance was virtually identical to his character earlier this year, in Stephen Fisher's production of Saturday Night Forever, as the camp, impossibly nice and bubbly Lee, with no fourth wall between himself and the audience. It's possible that his previous success (SNF now going to New York) made the idea of his placement into a similar role understandably irresistible to director Stephen Fisher, but Darren clearly overshadowed the rest of the cast's performances, overplaying the trauma of his unrequited love towards the slick and skinny Andrew, drawing the audience's sympathy and mothering instincts to such an extent that one almost expected a pantomime-ish boo-hiss moment towards the love-rat, while Michael remained innocent, comic and adorable.

Aled Pugh played the dual nature Andrew superbly, on the one hand showing his charming, non-committal, self-absorbed side, and underneath displaying his fear and confusion about his identity. Beth Robert was convincing as stroppy wife and hot lover Lesley, as was Ri Richards as the tougher, more self-aware, but nonetheless vulnerable Alison. Richard Elfyn as the pathetic Tom oozed a certain weariness as the neglectful son and partner, but they all worked well together.

There were some great scenes showing Stephen Fisher's skill, especially where Michael anticipates meeting hunk Lesley, only to discover Lesley is a she – the audience watch the scene unravel with Alison, to whom Michael is relaying the story to. But this could not be so effective if it wasn't for the imaginative and resourceful set designed by Fiona Watt where she manages to cram in several locations into the one space: modern upstairs and downstairs flats, a house's cosy wooden kitchen, a bar and an airport. The characters weave in and out of these, changing location believably with speed and ease.

Stephen Fisher heightened every scripted comic moment even further, but sometimes it bordered heavily on the bawdiness of a 'Carry On' film, as Tom had breathless sex with Alison under her silky sheets then screamed for her to hurry up, at which point she huffily shoved him off.

But underneath this comic façade, the play did have some more serious issues to point out. Vickery clearly brings sexual politics into play, by having Michael, the only gay, to be the only character to posses any true honesty and integrity. Ten years ago in the late 80's/early 90's this probably made a considerable impact and delighted the gay community, but now it seems dated (surely if we strive for equality, they should be portrayed as such?) and more than a little improbable to have a character so untarnished (gay or not), especially in a play primarily concerned with deceit.

In act 2 the mood altered, balancing out act 1 as confrontations between characters, themselves and deceit became unavoidable. At the very end, Vickery refused to resolve their relationship problems and instead leaves the characters poignantly hanging in their tangled webs. He leaves one with a feeling, acknowledge, that deceit, whether to yourself or another, is messy, that it hurts and once you've fallen into its trap there's no easy way out. But Vickery doesn't explore it in any further depth, and doesn’t have anything more that’s fresh or insightful to say on the matter, yet I suspect that’s not what matters here. Vickery's style does seem to be targeted for a particular audience, and in that context, his play is hugely successful.

The final show in the ten-day run had the auditorium bursting at the seams with its eager and notably middle-aged audience. Its not difficult to see why as there is plenty in Vickery's domestic script for them to identify with: the various stages of relationships that one goes through in life, the uncompromising and unexpected situations we find ourselves in, and the different roles we play as spouses, children, friends and lovers. All the characters are clinging onto dead wood in pursuit of happiness, preferring to stay in their comfortable familiar ruts rather than soul-search – a choice which many people make. The humour centralises on all this domesticity, like in one monologue scene where Lesley is in her kitchen telling us about her first lusty encounter with Andrew, but gets carried away and reaches a shuddering climax on top of her washing machine, before running off, embarrassed. The production allows the audience to recognise these elements and laugh at themselves.

There's little that one really has to think about or concentrate on, apart from enjoying the play, which the audience did with ease. Vickery's play did what it was supposed to do: entertain, enlighten and uplift

Reviewed by: Madeline Parr

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