Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 19th July, 2018
You would think a play set in a call centre of a company that sells sex toys, marital aids and other assorted paraphernalia would be fertile ground for laughter. Sadly, Anna Longoretti’s flaccid script is fatally flawed in the first act; what the four women who take the calls are selling is almost irrelevant. It may as well be household insurance. Longoretti doesn’t give us time to enjoy the context and enjoy the characters before she switches gear and the women’s personal lives enter the equation. I suppose I’m saying we need more foreplay to get us into the mood.
Unfortunately, Olivia Jane Parker directs moments of humour and moments of pathos at the same pitch. The comedy needs to be played broader in order to contrast with the emotional scenes. And so, the first act limps along and we learn about the women’s problems: one wants a child at all costs; another is snowed under by the five kids she has; a third has a loveless marriage and an estranged grown-up son; while the fourth is a party girl, flitting between men. Meanwhile, their ineffectual manager bumbles around. I can barely raise a smile.
Fortunately, the second act is a good deal tighter and is played with more energy. Although two of the subplots (overwhelmed mum, party girl) don’t really go anywhere, the play has something to say about motherhood, expectations and disappointments. Plus, they mess around with the stock: dildos, rubber tits, blow-up dolls and the like, like they should have done from the off.
Lucinda Toomey is the strongest of the bunch as longsuffering Lily, armoured with barbed humour, who awakens from the decades-long depression of her married life and seeks to forge a meaningful bond with her alienated son. Karen Welsh is suitably histrionic as the highly-strung Sylvie (who is French for some reason) while Stephanie Surrey pulls all the right faces as harassed mum-of-five Janice. Ally Gibson’s party-hearty Tiffany seems natural – despite the ill-advised rendition of Rufus Wainwright’s Vibrate on an ever-so-convenient ukulele. Philip Hickson flounders and fumbles as the weak-as-dishwater boss. It’s a shame his declaration of affection is not given more welly. He needs fire and not just cake in his belly.
The set combines the call centre with a ‘break-out’ space, the manager’s office and the warehouse, with cardboard boxes stacked everywhere as though health and safety regulations mean little to this company – I hesitate to call it a ‘firm’.
The second act shows us the potential of the premise and of the cast, but what should be a real buzz from curtain up disappoints like pound-shop batteries or an inflatable companion with a slow puncture. A let-down.