IF SO, THEN YES
by N F Simpson.
Jermyn Street Theatre 16b Jermyn Street SW1Y 6ST To 2 October 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3.30pm.
BSL Signed 16 Sept.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7287 2875.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 September.
Clarity and joy in Absurdity.
Before there were elephants in every room when anything was being discussed, he put one in the garden; before gender-bending became popular his Uncle Ted was a gorgeous female. And he had a collection of I-speak-your-weight machines rehearsing the Hallelujah Chorus while music from found objects was still part of the avant-garde.
He might not have delved the philosophical depths of Absurdity, but he was the clearest link from the late-fifties theatrical movement to the new comedy that finally broke through when the Monty Python gang did something completely different across the nation’s TV screens.
And he’s articulate and witty as ever. Not for N F Simpson the reduced wattage of an old man’s output – the short, the anecdotal, the insubstantial. That would be absurd; he’s only ninety-one, after all.
There are the older male writer’s totems – an elderly writer as protagonist and an attractive younger woman who’s loyally attendant, with no other role than to be loyally attendant, despite Valerie Gogan’s (very good) best efforts.
But, more importantly, there’s the swirling comedy of logic taking conversations out of the realms of sense – an argument is pursued with equal earnestness as it develops from a discussion of the first American Presidency to the qualities of soap
One participant is aged writer Geoffrey Wythenshaw, whose dictated memoirs convey the tilted arrogance of memory. Around him – and around Jermyn Street Theatre’s auditorium – cleaners and carers talk and work. Then comes a garden fête, picking-up several references, including one to a young man assaulted from behind into the clergy, and offering a range of choices for reincarnation.
If this borders Ionesco-land, a closing lecture attacking reason touches on Lucky’s speech from Waiting for Godot. Steven Beard delivers it with flawless academic smoothness. There are several fine performances, including similar light reasonableness from Roddy Maude-Roxby (if compromised early in the run by several memory lapses).
The production, while letting Simpson’s dialogue speak for itself, offers little support in giving the actors a sense of being in the same world, or providing a rhythm for a play largely structured round a series of interruptions.
Geoffrey Wythenshaw: Roddy Maude-Roxby.
Lorna/Gladys: Valerie Gogan.
Maureen: Gabrielle Dempsey.
Mabel/Letitia: Di Botcher.
Dame Hilda/Claudia: Sarah Crowden.
Brigadier/Harry/Hugo/Lecturer: Steven Beard.
Kevin/Robin/Stephen/Robert: James Chalmers.
Reg/Aubrey/Jeremy: Paul Copley.
Director: Simon Usher.
Designer: Anthony Lamble.
Lighting: Sam Moon.