SEX AND THE THREE DAY WEEK
by Stephen Sharkey.
Liverpool Playhouse Williamson Square L1 1EL To 10 January 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu 1.30pm Sat 2pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 0151 7094776.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 December.
When the farce isn’t with you.
An accidentally misplaced finger could make a line above read “Ruins 2hr 20min”. Alas, it would be only too apt here. A shame, for writer Stephen Sharkey’s The May Queen, also directed by Serdar Bilis, in 2007, was a particularly impressive premiere at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre.
So what’s gone wrong? I put it down to two things: farce and the 1970s. Sharkey’s new play is modelled on an older one by Georges Feydeau, a French specialist in farce-writing. Usually known in English as Hotel Paradiso, or A Little Hotel on the Side, it requires, like all farces, an effortless sense of logic – these characters would do that – until, crashing upon unexpected quirks and events, a situation of extreme complexity is reached, ridiculous in its outcome, yet always following unbending necessity.
Decisions are made depending on a character’s need to keep up appearances or, more innocently, to behave by the codes they assume everyone operates. And much of this happens within the minds of audience members. If they don’t see the necessity for this person to respond this way – especially when quick decisions are needed – then the comic house of cards collapses. And a Liverpool audience in 2014 is likely to hold different assumptions from Parisians in 1894.
English farce tends towards innocence apparently undermined, while French farces are full of men searching desperately for extra-marital sex. So Sharkey has to do more than reposition his action; he would need to reconfigure basic assumptions to make matters credible and hilarious in a play now dealing with English people in the mid-70s, when a miners’ strike has lead to power-cuts and government ordaining companies could only work three days a week, to conserve coal stocks.
Worse; what might have seemed enjoyably typical, or topical, at the time – décor, hair-styles – now merely recalls early Willy Russell plays or an inferior Abigail’s Party The cast is driven to work too hard, and the only effortless comedy comes from the pre-recorded voice of Ken Dodd, as the parrot’s mouthpiece, somehow infecting lines spoken in another place and time with a natural humour lacking elsewhere.
Catherine Ballard: Catrin Aaron.
Robert Ballard: David Birrell.
Angela McManaman/Holly: Natalie Casey.
Philip McManaman: Edward Harrison.
Sebastian/Detective Sergeant Rose: Javier Marzan.
Ben Ballard/Mr Smith: Robin Morrissey.
Miss Mayhew: Eileen O’Brien.
Fanny/Mrs Smith: Lucy Phelps.
Taxi Driver/Creevey/Frank/Detective Inspector Connors: Graeme Rooney.
Voice of Tom the Mynah Bird: Ken Dodd.
Director: Serdar Bilis.
Designer: Hannah Clark.
Lighting: Ian Scott.
Sound: Adrienne Quartly.
Musical Director: Rick Juckes.
Movement: Les Bubb.
Choreographer: Jenny Sawyer.
Assistant director: Elli Johnston.