Sometimes one just doesn't know where to begin. London critics have frequently been berated for allowing themselves to become metropolitanised and cutting themselves off from other "dialects" of theatrical work, particularly Scottish dialects. Moreover, David MacLennan and Dave Anderson's Wildcat company is not the kind of beast with which London is familiar any more, with its long reputation for producing shows which are at once musical, directly political and rooted in a popular theatre tradition. However, I cannot envisage myself being persuaded that Bedfellows is anything but an unfunny, unholy mess. Imagine The Bumper Book Of British Political Scandal adapted for the stage by Ray Cooney, aged four... no, on second thoughts it would be better if you didn't.
The tone is set when the lights go up on a politician in camiknickers and fishnet stockings. Ah, but this is a Labour politician, dressing in drag to circumvent the women-only shortlist in his Scottish target constituency. So Tony Bland (surely no comment intended in that name, even though he was educated at the same school as Tony Blair) becomes Antonia Blandish, and sets off for Glencouthy House Hotel, which is staffed and frequented by a motley collection of stereotypes. The drunken Nationalist factotum, the Essex-born owner (with a kind of inbred Tasmanian accent), the Gorbals lad struck rich thanks to corrupt cellphone-propelled business deals, the brace of allegedly comical foreign maids (and yes, the Swedish one is called Inge)... all are present and woefully incorrect. The final touch is the bibulous, lecherous, tartan-trews-sporting M.P. Sir Christopher Vainwean; alas for Nicholas Fairbairn, the dead cannot be libelled, or for once he might actually win a suit.
The plot is farce, as supposedly befits a play about British politics in the 1990s. "Miss Blandish" turns up at the wrong hotel where "her" spirited platitudes all but get her adopted as the next Tory candidate, as well as pursued by Vainwean and both maids – one of them genuinely believing "her" to be a woman, the other evidently just cool about the odd bit of cross-dressing – whilst three briefcases each containing incriminating material (including a load of Semtex in one) get repeatedly mixed up and a female Tory grandee tries to track down her long-lost son.
These several strands are stuffed into the play like minced lights into a sheep's stomach-bag. Add frequent and ill-digested lumps of big-issue authors' messages for fibre and a batch of songs ranging from music-hall to anaemic blues and menopausal funk – a real Now That's What I Call Muddled compilation – and the result is a truly unappetising haggis. Granted, the play was not created with a London market in mind (a fact which grows fully apparent to all in the house over two hours), but it is hard to conceive of any audience lapping up such unfocused tosh.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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