It was not without anticipation that I approached this revival of Mike Stott’s “comedy classic” that had originally starred what are now big names like the late Richard Beckinsdale and Pete Postlethwaite, Julie Walters, Matthew Kelly, and Bill Nighy and was to “guarantee a raucous night of fun.” The fact that much of the current cast are weel kent through television soaps like Corrie (Coronation Street), Emmerdale, and Hollyoaks was an added fillip to see how some of these actors performed live.
After many initial rejections, the play had its first performance in 1973 in the Schauspielhaus, Bochum and not appearing in England till 1976 at Liverpool’s Everyman. Set in an unnamed location in the Pennines, it tells the tale of a village grocer, Trevor Tinsley (Craig Gazey), who yearns to live by the adage “To thine own self be true”, which means in his case fantasising about free love.
His dreams come true when an incomer arrives triggering a set of farcical situations at which he is the centre but the tables turn on him when his buttoned up wife, Irene (Suzanne Shaw) discovers her sexual joie de vivre without him.
The Daily Mail apparently dubbed the play as ‘Coronation Street with an X certificate.’ Craig Gazey who won awards for his performance of the wonderful character Graeme Proctor in Corrie is a natural clown full of comic camp body language that he used to full effect in this production.
Likewise Vicky Entwistle, who was famed as the loud mouthed Janice Battersby in Corrie, played a Mrs Baldry practising schadenfreude and gossip worthy of Ena Sharples. The rest of the (rather weighty) 10 strong cast did well but the whole experience was disappointing with the second act descending into boring farce.
All the shenanigans, punctuated with an orgy of swearing and overt sexual language and nudity may have been shocking and radical in 1976, particularly against the backdrop of the implied frustration and suppression of the Methodist ideology of the village in the play, but not anymore.
It struck me that making the sexual catalyst a southerner undermined the notion that ‘up north’ was a hot bed of potential ménages. Society and theatre audiences have moved on over these three decades thanks in part to the alternative comedy scene; while, for example, issues of race and disablity are now generally taboo, those of sexual practices in all their varieties are well out of the closet.
The cream cake fight scene was slapstick chaos worthy of a children’s TV show and was frankly just irritating. Any potentially poignant moments, like the news at the end of poor Stanley Baldry (Steven Blakeley) the village simpleton, being sectioned, seemed to evaporate in the farce that had unfolded, and received no sympathetic comment. And where was poor Baby Glenda when her mother discovered her sexual appetite?
The set and costumes reflected the times of the play – all tank tops and the various shades of brown that epitomise the era. All this was pretty accurate, except for the apparent anachronism of what looked like a popular French jam on the bottom shelves among otherwise contemporary goods.
The show raised some laughs but overall it seemed utterly dated - a pointless revival that would have been better left as a memory. I met someone I know at the interval from the NE of England who was heading home, cringing with embarrassment at the ‘northern’ stereotypes. She made the right choice.
Mon 27 February to Sat 3 March 2012, 7.30pm. Matinees: Wed & Sat 2.30pm
Tickets: £ 17.00 - £ 28.00