Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
If Ricky Gervais wants a few tips on what constitutes real artistic
taboo-breaking, he should perhaps consider attending Phillip Breen's
revival of Peter Nichols' dangerously black comedy. First presented on
the same stage forty-four years ago, this tale of a couple whose
freefall marriage is defined by their daughter's disability may be a
jazz-soundtracked period piece, but it retains more comedic edge than
much contemporary fare.
It begins with Miles Jupp's frustrated teacher Bri addressing the
audience as if we're an unruly end of afternoon classroom. Moving
indoors to his seemingly domestic bliss with Sarah Tansey's
highly-strung Sheila, it soon becomes clear the pair have constructed
an elaborate game centred around wheelchair-bound Joe. With such
survival strategies becoming increasingly exhausting, Sheila has taken
refuge in amateur dramatics, leaving Bri, hemmed in by his own
frustrated intelligence, to what turns out to be his own extreme
Breen's production flits between music hall archness and gut-wrenching
seriousness, something with which Jupp's own in-the-moment experience
as a stand-up helps sustain. All involved
speak out-front to the audience as if we're complicit in some voguish
group therapy. Even Sheila's ghastly am-dram pals get to say their
piece like drawing-room relics.
Nichols' one-liners are deadly, and Miriam Margolyes' cameo as Bri's
twin-set clad mum Grace is a masterclass in suburban grotesquery.
Combined, an increasingly desperate portrait emerges of a society
emotionally and institutionally ill-equipped to deal with anything out
of the ordinary. No change there, although let's hope this new era at
the Citz will open its doors to similarly provocative twentieth
century classics rarely done this side of the border.
The Herald, October 24th 2011