IF Ricky Gervais wants a few tips on what constitutes real artistic taboo-breaking, he should perhaps consider attending Phillip Breen’s revival of Peter Nichols’ dangerously black comedy.
First presented on the same stage 44 years ago, this tale of a couple whose freefall marriage is defined by their daughter’s disability may be a jazz-soundtracked period piece, but it retains more comedic edge than much contemporary fare.
It begins with Miles Jupp’s frustrated teacher Bri addressing the audience as if we’re an unruly end of afternoon classroom. Moving indoors to his seemingly domestic bliss with Sarah Tansey’s highly-strung Sheila, right, it soon becomes clear the pair have constructed an elaborate game centred around wheelchair-bound Joe. With such survival strategies becoming increasingly exhausting, Sheila has taken refuge in amateur dramatics, leaving Bri, hemmed in by his own frustrated intelligence, to what turns out to be his own extreme devices.
Breen’s production flits between music hall archness and gut-wrenching seriousness, something with which Jupp’s own in-the-moment experience as a stand-up helps sustain. All involved speak out-front to the audience as if we’re complicit in some voguish group therapy. Even Sheila’s ghastly am-dram pals get to say their piece like drawing-room relics.
Nichols’ one-liners are deadly, and Miriam Margolyes’ cameo as Bri’s twin-set clad mum Grace is a masterclass in suburban grotesquery. Combined, an increasingly desperate portrait emerges of a society emotionally and institutionally ill-equipped to deal with anything out of the ordinary. No change there.
Posted : 24th October 2011