by Bill Naughton
Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB To 3 November 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 13, 20, 24, 31 Oct 2pm.
Audio-described 18 Oct.
BSL Signed 24 Oct 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 01204 520661.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 October.
An old new play worth waiting for.
Here’s a show starting as it doesn’t mean to go on. For its first act Lighthearted Intercourse is largely what it says, husband and wife chatting around the double-bed with brass knobs on dominating the Octagon’s cockpit-like in-the-round staging.
It seems to be the 1930s – there’s certainly a lot jobless, and next door’s reluctant riser Albert responds to knocker-up Clara’s calls – more foghorn than siren – because if he doesn’t get to work on time there’s plenty wanting his job (Maxine Peake and Peter Kay, like bad Victorian children heard but not seen, add pointed comedy point to the production).
During this act unemployed Joe, like an early incarnation of writer Bill Naughton’s Alfie, chats lightheartedly with the audience too, making us complicit in how he married not the girl he loved but the one he got pregnant. And Joe was a generation early to escape like Alfie.
Only David Fleeshman’s confident, concerned Visitor complicates things; it’s soon apparent who he is, if not, immediately, why he’s come.
Then things change – hardly surprising, since director David Thacker assembled this script from ten, sometimes contradictory, versions developed from a 1963 radio play November Day about one small if significant scene here.
After the interval, love replaces sex and Joe no longer chats blokishly to us; he’s engaged in serious matters with Madge. Both are nagged by jealousy – there’s possibly one fit of fury more than necessary, and Madge’s declarations of all-consuming love momentarily threaten to engulf her character.
But such details are minor within the intensity Naughton and Thacker create, where material success – its beginnings hinted as newspaper covering the table’s replaced by a proper cloth, in what’s also a touching example of love and happiness, and, by implication, a Peer Gynt-like search for identity.
That it’s summed-up in the repeat, two hours apart, of an embrace, is tribute also to the central performances of Nicholas Shaw and Fiona Hampton. His shift to self-realisation, helped by her Solveig-like selflessness, where Hampton never loses the sense of spirited persistence, all rooted in reality down the social scale, make this a dramatically forceful experience.
Joe: Nicholas Shaw.
Madge: Fiona Hampton.
Visitor: David Fleeshman.
Clara: Maxine Peake.
Albert: Peter Kay.
Director: David Thacker.
Designer: Janet Bird.
Lighting: Mick Hughes.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Movement: Lesley Hutchison.
Assistant director: Hannah Drake.