Review by Martin Hoyle, Financial Times, 8 November 1985
All the productions in the current season of new plays in the Cottesloe at the National Theatre originated "in one form or another," according to the programme, at the NT studio. Situated in the Old Vic Annexe, the Studio exists to generate new and experimental work and "to refine and extend" the company's skills.
To judge from the five short plays that make up the 4¼ hours, including intervals, playing only until next Tuesday, the latter function is served admirably, the former hardly at all. Some excellent acting bolsters up five plays slight in content and fairly conservative in style.
After three plays and two hours of seediness, the audience reacts with excessive gratitude to Rosemary Wilton's Bouncing. Miss Wilton works at the BBC. Not that I imply any connection, but her essentially middle-class comedy provides the most straightforward entertainment of the evening. Three single women talk of their respective or collective, since they eventually share the same narrative quests for companionship via computer dating or advertising in the New Statesman.
Beautifully played, the trio is dominated by Gillian Barge, ruefully noting her increased dependence on henna, an electric blanket and The Archers. Their jackets and skirt lengths similar, their strings of pearls identical, Jennifer Hilary and Kate Fahy complete this sad and funny group. The play's range of reference is that of middle-class London theatre-goers, some of its jokes are less successful than others, and Miss Wilton can be unkind about naff little men in a way that would not be tolerated were the sexes reversed; but Peter Gill's direction, the women freezing into immobility until they speak, does it more than proud. As does Miss Barge's wistful observation about blind dates: "They always expect Jane Fonda." And her defensive triumph in "she's older than me."
Mr Gill turns up as playwright as well as director with a two-hander, In the Blue, that seems a great deal longer than its advertised 40 minutes. Surrounded by vaguely Bohemian squalor piles of newspapers and books, blankets on the floor two young men circle, fence, come together, squabble. Michael Maloney's perfectly-tuned educated dropout imagines much, or possibly all, of it, changing the scenario by murmuring "or" at which we get an alternative version. Since his partner (pick-up? lover?) is the truculently shambling Ewan Stewart impersonating a sack of potatoes with swinging arms, the note of woodenly aggressive monotony soon forfeits our interest.
The cluttered floor that, varied with pointless meticulousness, is common to four of the pieces, in Alex Renton's A Twist of Lemon betrays such signs of well-heeled dissoluteness as empty bottles, a cassette-player with Haydn on and copies of the Financial Times. Young city gent Miles has overslept, gets out of work for the day, and like an up-dated Elle in Cocteau's Voix Humaile spends most of the time desperately on the phone. He hocks the television set in his attempt to get his fix of "smack" "just for recreation," he assures us; "I haven't got a problem." The grim little morality is put over intelligently by Nigel Le Vaillant with just a hint of Hooray Henry caricature: slight, predictable, dare one say old-fashioned?
I am worried about David Cardy. He has perfected the fly boy, the flashy spiv, and is apparently not allowed to play anything else. His cheerfully bumptious caller on the toy-scattered, untidy household in Rod Smith's Sunday Morning, shares the honours with another cameo from Kate Fahy's Sunday painter. Otherwise, the married couple (Stephen Petcher, Chrissie Cotterill) who come to domestic terms over two Sabbaths seem uncertain as to background, inclinations or character.
Moreover, the almost perfunctory conclusion the result of some workshop experiment tailing off? is found in the quintet's last piece, Up for None by Mick Mahoney. A fly street-salesman (played by guess who) sets up his pitch in Oxford Street. The play turns into a set of vignettes, rambling to an unexpectedly violent conclusion.
Perry Fenwick's slow-witted viciousness as the spiv's watchout and trouble-shooter is a joy; Brian Bovell's black policeman has his moment with the fierce cry of "They're all guilty!" as he glares at the population of Oxford Street; and Miss Cotterill obliges as a tart who gives her autobiography to the first bovverboy who smiles at her. Some of the cockney criminal slang is incomprehensible; much is improbable; Mr Cardy is a pleasure, though his utterances sound like Alf Garnett writ afresh.
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