The Pit, London EC4
Opened 24 June, 2003

Three years ago Peter Hall was tempted back on to the fringe to direct The British première of Giuseppe Manfridi's Cuckoos at the Gate in Notting Hill. That production (which I did not see) drew warmish but fundamentally mixed reviews; not enough, I would have thought, to justify what is in effect its revival for a run in The Pit's BITE strand and next month as part of the Hall season in Bath.

Hall is clearly enthused by Manfridi's "Theatre of Excess" piece, which begins with absurd farce as Tito and Beatrice are discovered inextricably locked in anal sex and swathe themselves in a parachute for modesty's sake when Tito's gynaecologist father arrives to attempt to decouple them, and ends barely an hour later in the darkest of Oedipal territory, in which even the parachute plays its part. He relishes the situation and the dramatic journey, as well as the stream of double entendres which Colin Teevan's translation meets head-on. (There's one downright out-loud groaner, too, acknowledging the play's classical foundation: when Beatrice laments, "The edifice of all my illusions, all my beliefs... is wrecked", Tito responds, "Edifice wrecked?") And Mark Rice-Oxley and Jessica Turner give solid performances as the conjoined couple, although they are eclipsed by David Yelland (the sole survivor from the original cast) who as Tito's father blends an urbane bedside manner (so to speak) with an odious self-regard.

But I'm not convinced that it's the breath of fresh air Hall believes. This sort of blend hasn't been new since at least the days of Joe Orton; Manfridi pushes it a little further, but in the end the fact that the chuckles keep coming (just like Tito) undermines the suspension of audience disbelief in the face of a basically credible situation, which Hall so emphasises in his notes to the programme/script. The soundtrack for the curtain-call and audience departure is a piece of bouncy Euromuzak; better for them to have gone all the way and used "Yakety Sax", Benny Hill's theme tune. A curio, to be sure, but I fear a rather over-valued one.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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