Tricycle Theatre, London NW6
Opened 8 May, 1995

Black theatre productions haven't tried that often lately (pace The Posse and The BiBi Crew) to Trojan-horse social comment in under cover of conventional situation comedy. In Jenny McLeod's new play Victor And The Ladies, you scarcely even notice the vein of sexual politicking pulsing beneath the rich farce.

The premise is simple: two-timing rat gets his come-uppance when his women discover each other and combine to teach him a lesson. The twist is that Victor is six-timing, and that his deceased wife and four mistresses willingly formed themselves into a harem. Only when he resumes wooing his first love Lilah and begins to be blackmailed by the obeah woman next door do Victor's "ladies" realise that none of them will become the next Mrs. Priddy, that the cosy arrangement will be shattered and that its cosiness was in any case all one-way.  Nevertheless, they are repeatedly mollified by Victor against their better judgement part of them seems to want to be deceived. Rudolph Walker is on top form as the little Napoleon who has obviously had years of experience at faking sincerity and can now do it at the drop of a hat the second act sees him literally trying to charm the pants off all five women so that the undies can be used in a magic ritual. Even when being menaced by a kitchen knife held against his main business premises, Walker's Victor never descends into Ray Cooneyesque frenzy.

Claire Benedict injects a note of real distress into her performance as Lilah, repeatedly swearing off anything to do with Victor and repeatedly finding, to her anguish, that even knowing Victor's inability to make a decision and stick to it, even as he hollowly reassures her, "The only thing between me and them is 18, 19 children oh, and a few grandchildren," she still cannot stop loving him. In contrast, Dona Croll as Monica, the most pugnacious of the ladies, is a marvellous Jamaican Sue Ellen Ewing.

Paulette Randall's production adds several deft comic flourishes of her own: scene-changes in blackout are accompanied by reggae standards, and in a terrifically cheeky touch, the number played after a scene in which one of Victor's ladies gives birth on the kitchen table is Susan Cadogan's 1975 biggie "Hurt So Good". The moment is typical of a production that rightly lets the comedy do the talking.

Written for the London Evening Standard.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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