ONE FOR THE ROAD
by Willy Russell.
Royal and Derngate (Royal auditorium) Guildhall Street NN1 1DP To 23 February 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 21 Feb 7.45pm.
BSL Signed 20 Feb.
Captioned 19 Feb.
Post-show Discussion 12 Feb.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
Tickets: 01604 624811.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 February.
It fits a departing director’s situation, but is hardly ‘Comedy Gold’.
There’s a good story explaining why Willy Russell’s play had lost its original title of ‘Tupperware Man’ when it premiered at Manchester’s Contact Theatre in 1986 as the less-happily titled Painted Veg and Parkinson. The joke’s not in America’s Tupperware threatening the law if their name was used, but in the reason they gave.
The story, in the programme and on Russell’s website, is funnier than anything in the script, which achieved its new name (Russell’s humorous again on how that happened) for a Nottingham Playhouse revival, before he overhauled the script in 1985. That’s when Michael Parkinson was updated to Terry Wogan as the TV host behind the game played onstage.
It’s not much of a game, but suitably expressive of conformist lives in identikit houses on a private residential estate. In his satire of suburban pretensions Russell predates Mike Leigh and Abigail’s Party by a year, and has a male focus in Dennis Kane. As his 40th birthday looms Dennis determines to up his campaign against middle-class respectability. The way everyone decides to join him would form the most improbable pilgrimage in modern drama were it not for Sarah Daniels’ The Devil’s Gateway several years later.
Though it shares themes with Leigh, Russell isn’t as condescending to his characters. There again, dramatically he’s always such a nice guy. However simplistic, obvious and limited his characters and dialogue are, there’s a liking for the people in his plays, and an articulation of what many people feel or think that makes the simplifications forgivable.
It’s still hard to see why departing Artistic Director Laurie Sansom (off to run the National Theatre Scotland after seven stimulating years in Northampton) chose this for his parting ‘Comedy Gold’ production. At least he burnishes it bright as could be, with four sterling performances. In particular, Con O’Neill gives Dennis a ferocious edge accompanying his more considerate side and Michelle Butterly provides his wife Pauline with spirit. And it’s all played in designer Jessica Curtis’s skeletal rooms, suggesting cramped living-space, backed by a blueprint of the estate, the Kane home highlighted in its packed uniformity.
Pauline: Michelle Butterly.
Dennis: Con O’Neill.
Jane: Nicola Stephenson.
Roger: Matthew Wait.
Director: Laurie Sansom.
Designer: Jessica Curtis.
Lighting: Philip Gladwell.
Sound: John Leonard.
Assistant director: Christopher Gorry.