Tart with a heart meets lovable lummock in this rather inexplicable revival of Charles Dyer’s bittersweet 1962 comedy. Middle-aged innocent Percy (Stephen Tompkinson), in London for a footie match, ends up going home with floozy Cyrenne (Michelle Collins). They talk. And talk. And, Lord help us, talk. Cyrenne, it turns out, has invented a new identity for herself, but Percy isn’t being entirely honest either.
Basically, this is an artefact from a bygone age, “Between the end of the Chatterley ban/And the Beatles’ first LP”, as poet Philip Larkin put it. Sex is still both too risqué and too intimate to be shown directly – hence all the will-they-won’t-they havering – and old-fashioned courtesy seems quaint but hasn’t quite died out, in this era. Oh, and the Dansette in the corner of Cyrenne’s flat plays Dusty Springfield.
Most of all, the play is set in a time when a grown man could still be naïve in the ways of the world without being thought retarded or, worse, to be hiding something sinister. This first part of Dyer’s “Loneliness trilogy” of (more or less) two-handers is at times almost an adolescent rite-of-passage tale only with grown-ups. It’s sweet in its way, but in the West End in 2004 its presence is a mystery.
Perhaps it’s simply a vehicle for its stars. Michelle Collins is cleverly cast half-in, half-out of type: Cyrenne has all the mendacity but none of the malice of EastEnders’ Cindy Beale. Stephen Tompkinson enjoys the comedy of gormlessness, but restrains himself from mugging as excessively as he did in Arsenic And Old Lace last year. Nick Fletcher turns in an efficient cameo as Cyrenne’s puzzled brother.
Designer Robert Jones shows a first-class eye for detail, and John Caird directs with his customary care, though it feels a tad on the modest side for the man who co-directed Les Mis. But thorough competence and low-key, antique charm simply aren’t enough to keep a play like this in the West End. It feels essentially adrift in this day and age... as if it were, in Dusty’s words, in the middle of nowhere.
Written for Teletext.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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