Malvern Theatres, Wednesday 28th September, 2011
There are some plays that make you look at life in a new way. There are plays that move you, surprise you, shock you, amuse you, disgust you, challenge you, puzzle you and thrill you.
And there are some plays that put you off going to the theatre.
This is a new play by Nick Fisher – his first opus for the stage. And it shows. I remember his TV series Manchild as being rather enjoyable but here something has gone very wrong. Scenes are constructed like sketches, with punch lines and blackouts. When characters leave the stage, there is no sense of their lives continuing until they return. They merely come back to resume the discussion they were having before they left the stage.
Guy (Smarm King Nigel Havers) is summoned by his ex-wife back to the family home because loyal doggy Toby is dying in a basket on the kitchen floor. The vet (Graham Seed) has advised the mutt be put to sleep by lethal injection, but Miranda (strident voice, bakes muffins in Capri pants and heels) thinks it only fitting that the “shit” she married (her words) gets to say a final goodbye to his loyal friend. Enter Guy and the rants begin. He does ten minutes on his aversion to Miranda’s new Aga. He puts her new French lover’s espadrilles on a baking tray and slams them in one of the Aga’s four ovens. He tries to ingratiate himself back into her affections with further tirades and some bouts of posh swearing. He is not a likeable character. His expressions range from the sardonic and the smarmy to a sort of clenched agitation where he punctuates his invective with jerks of his head as though deflecting invisible footballs into the back of the net.
Mind you, none of the four characters have much to recommend them. Miranda is cold, dropping references to popular character into her monologues rather than reveal any roundedness to her character. The vet is so bloody nice and decent you want him to fall on his own lethal syringe. Guy’s lower class (new money) golf buddy spouts the oratory of the pub boor – he and the vet share a couple of pointless scenes to pad out the running time.
Guy is reluctant to let the vet do his job, but all this is a metaphor for his inability to recognise that his ex-wife’s finally got him out of her system. He is unable to let go and move on, do you see?
Finally, he realises the poor pooch can’t be allowed to suffer any longer. He pulls out a rifle (he and Pub Boor were on their way for a spot of clay pigeon shooting after golf, don’tcha know?) but can’t bring himself to pull the trigger. Heaven forbid the shot should ricochet off the Aga. He decides instead to suffocate the mutt with a carrier bag – HILARIOUSLY a “bag for life”. But he is too late. Toby has slipped away without human intervention. Guy is grief-stricken. Miranda returns to change her heels into more suitable footwear for a head-clearing walk, and enfolds him in an embrace of consolation. Cue the leer over her shoulder to the audience. Guy places both hands on her buttocks. The end. The audience is at last put out of its misery – except they weren’t. Some of them sounded like they were enjoying this twaddle. Were they recognising their own lives on the stage, and enjoying the mockery of themselves? I don’t think so. There was none of the archness, wit or subversion of The Importance of Being Earnest. Perhaps Nigel Havers’s considerable fan base believe he can do no wrong.
When characters refer to each other as “darling” every other line, you know you’re in trouble. This old-fashioned tiresome tripe should have been tied in a sack weighted with house bricks and flung in the nearest canal.