by Alan Bennett
Theatre by the Lake In rep to 27 October 2001
Runs 2 hours 20 minutes One interval
TICKETS 017687 74411
Review Timothy Ramsden 9 August
Superb revival brings out the best in Bennett’s farce.
Keswick has come up with a cracker, a corker, a great walloping smackeroo evening out in Alan Bennett’s 1973 saucy seaside postcard of a play, where a middle-class reared on propriety comes cheek to cheek with the permissive society. With nods to Joe Orton and a glance back at Wilde, Bennett shows permissiveness has been bubbling in his characters all along.
Dr Wicksteed (Peter Yapp) drools over doubly desirable Felicity Rumpers (Cleo Barnham), a handsome young thing and a private patient to boot. His wife Muriel – a superb jutting out in the wrong places caricature by Sara Coward, The Archers‘ well-rounded Caroline Pemberton – lusts after Sir Percy Shorter (John Webb), a little man in a big job.There’s a peach of a performance from Maria Gough as Connie, the flat-chested failure who in pre-silicon days uses artificial aids to become a better-rounded person herself. Gough exploits every trick in the comic book, including the appendices. And Christopher Wright shows the humorous potential of restraint as Canon Throbbing, the clerical voyeur.
In fact there’s no weak link; the production shouts aloud the benefits of an ensemble who can play off each other without submerging their individuality.
But it’s not all sit back and laugh at middle England, as Ian Forrest’s beautifully detailed production makes clear. Lust and worms, desire and decay writhe round each other, linked in Martin Johns’ blow-up pictures of a drooling youth and outstanding gal looming over the Wicksteed residence either side of a human skeleton.
So, a sexy summer at the Lake – old flames from Pinter and Hare in the studio, with Bennett’s macabre humour offsetting the social investigation of sex in Mrs Warren’s Profession mainstage. All this in the land of Wordsworth and Walpole. It must be what they mean by the permissive society.
Felicity: Cleo Barnham
Dennis: Paul Basson
Mr Shanks: David Bowen
Muriel: Sara Coward
Connie: Maria Gough
Lady Rumpers: Dinah Handley
Mr Purdue: Richard Metcalfe
Mrs Swabb: Laura Richmond
Sir Percy Shorter: John Webb
Canon Throbbing: Christopher Wright
Wicksteed: Peter Yapp
Director: Ian Forrest
Designer: Martin Johns
Lighting: Nick Beadle
Sound: Paul Bunn
Choreographer: Lorelei Lynn