Go Bang Your Tambourine
By Philip King
The Finborough, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED to 31 August 2019.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 45 mins Two intervals.
TICKETS 0844 847 1652.
Review: William Russell 8 August.
Philip King is best-known for his 1944 farce See How They Run, but over the next thirty or so years he produced, sometimes with collaborators, a string of West End comedies including Sailor Beware, which made Peggy Mount a star, and Big Bad Mouse starring Jimmy Edwardes and Eric Sykes which they subsequently toured for four years from 1966 to 1970. He also wrote Serious Charge about a priest accused by a youth making homosexual advances which was sensational in its day. Go Bang Your Tambourine written in 1970 was his last play. It toured but never came in to town and this revival, its London premiere, by Two’s Company and the Finborough, shows why. It is an odd mix of comedy and serious sexual conflict involving a father and son, the influence on the boy of the Salvation Army, and a barmaid who is an archetypal tart with a heart. The cast is good, director Tricia Thorns creates their world well and there is, as so often at the Finborough, a superb set designed by Alex Marker of a small two up two down Lancashire house. But it does go on for an awful long time and what might have been funny is treated with a deadly seriousness that kills any laughs and creates an implausible family conflict not helped by the barmaid, a mini skirted baby doll nightie wearing blonde who likes mothering the boy and fancies his cad of a dad as well.
The Finborough is celebrated for reviving “lost” plays and given King’s track record there was every reason for reviving this one, and good reason for seeing it even if what we discover is that it was never a good play. David Armstrong played very well by Sebastian Calver in his professional debut is nineteen, a virgin, deeply repressed and through the influence of his mother, who has just died, involved in the Salvation Army. His father Thomas had left for another woman four years before and David blames him for the breakup of his mother’s marriage. It is the day of her funeral, father turns up, wants to know what his son plans to do, and is appalled at what he finds. A not safe in taxis male of the time he wants the boy to have fun. David just wants to stay in his house. The Salvation Army major, a sanctimonious old bat wants him to keep coming to their meetings and continue to learn how to play the cornet. David may be deep in grief, but he is stubborn. He has already fixed up to keep the house with the landlord, has a good job, and has placed an ad in a shop window seeking a lodger. Enter Bess, played to the 70s dolly bird blonde hilt, by Mia Austen. David falls under her spell; she likes him, likes the room, and becomes his lodger, much to the Salvation Army Major’s disapproval. Then Dad comes back and the stage is set for a battle between Father and Son for the dolly bird – it could have been farcical with people turning up at the wrong time, trousers being dropped, dresses being removed but it all gets a little bit oedipal and unlikely. It ends with David playing Abide With Me on his cornet, but should you wish to know who is listening go see it.
John Sackville is all bragging and sexual energy as the bar room Lothario Dad convinced all women want a bit of the other with him in complete contrast to his naive, wimpish son, except that both are resolutely determined to get what they want; Patience Tomlinson is a delight as the prim, interfering Salvationist. and Mia Austen manages to make sense of the contradictions inherent in Bess given an implausible tart with a heart role. Just why, except she needs a room, Bess should opt to live with a fussy youth who likes things like his tea table set just so is hard to understand. As David Sebastian Calver starts off all buttoned up, but as he gradually thaws reveals that he actually is a nice boy damaged by his awful parents and not helped by the Salvation Army membership. There is also that marvellous set, perfectly in tune with the times down to the brass crinoline lady on the beige tiled fireplace mantelpiece to enjoy.
David Armstrong: Sebastian Calver.
Thomas Armstrong: John Sackville.
Major Webster: Patience Tomlinson.
Bess Jones: Mia Austen.
Director: Tricia Thorne.
Set Designer: Alex Marker.
Costume Designer: Eleanor Tipler.
Lighting Designer: Mark Dymock.
Sound Designer: Dominic Bilkey.
Fight Director: Toby Spearpoint.
Production Photography: Philip Gammon.