WOMEN ON THE VERGER
Lyric Studio Hammersmith, London W6
Opened 26 June, 2000

Lip Service, the duo who (repeatedly) gave us the gigglesome Brontë parody Withering Looks, are giving it to us once again at the Lyric Studio, but only on Fridays and Saturdays. On other nights, they present the tale of an Anglican vicar and his almost adulterous wife, Women On The Verger. I'm afraid I can't resist the temptation to call it a curate's egg.

Sue Ryding the short one who plays the 4'3" Rev. Quigley and also, with stilts beneath her corduroy trousers, his 6'9" rival for Mrs Quigley's affections, Giles Netherpacket and Maggie Fox the taller one who plays Marianne Quigley and pretty much the rest of the village of Little Pocklington have a sharp eye for genre clichés: not only does the village include a best-selling novelist whose name is not quite Joanna Trollope, but the very stage set centres on an enormous Aga from which characters emerge. They take great enjoyment in daft bits of staging: Fox provides unintelligible other-end-of-the-phone sounds by discreetly gurgling into a teacup, and at one point emerges with a tiny toy aeroplane on a wire circling her floppy hat (it's a crop-spraying plane in the distance, you see)... not to mention the flashback slide-sequences and a brace of musical numbers containing couplets like "Beat me with a spatula/But don't leave me a bachelor".

Nor can they resist a double entendre if it can be slipped in (lots of cracks about Marianne pumping her husband's organ and the like). This is where we begin to part company. I'm as fond of a smutty childish pun or several dozen as the next overgrown smutty child, but Fox and Ryding are constantly too knowing for comfort as they ply their wares; on every single line, it seems, one or other of them will eyeball the audience, as if to signal, "It's all right we don't really believe in this silliness; we, the actors, are laughing at the characters we're playing too." And that always seems to me to show a sore disrespect to the material.

All of which is mere personal taste, of course; on the night I saw the show, a rather sparse audience laughed and clapped comfortably often (although, curiously, they took an age to realise that the interval had arrived). And Lip Service are undeniably clever and funny; I just wish they would have a little more faith in their own abilities and script, and stop reminding us every few seconds that they're being funny.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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