By Catherine Kirkham-Sandy
Bob (James Chetwood) and Jeff (Cullum Ball) are partners in both love and work. Problem: Jeff has no relatives, and Bob has too many, all of them eccentric. His mother Vera (Ellie Walpole) is tactless and, if not a full blown citizen of Cloud Cuckooland, at least a regular visitor. As you might expect in a play from 1992, she has no idea that her son might have a permanent reason for not wanting a girlfriend. Bob’s shrewd, sarcastic sister Lois (Laura Livingstone) is pregnant again, and his jittery, gloomy sister Nona (Lucy Finnighan) has recently been left by her husband. Knowledge and ignorance- wilful or unintentional- are the play’s key themes.
Bob is an engaging and enjoyable protagonist and James Chetwood is especially good at delivering Bob’s addresses to the audience, never missing the mark on a punchline. Seb Vaughan is excellent as Arthur, raising hearty laughter before he even said his first line. Bob promises us “you’ll like Bill” and we do: Edward Ray’s intonation is hilarious, and Bill’s longing for peace and quiet to read his newspaper makes him an amusing foil to the hectic emotions around him. The whole cast work well to create a realistic atmosphere of domestic tension, and the ending lacks closure but is still touching, thanks to the warmth of Walpole and Ball’s performances.
Lighting was effectively used to show changes in time, and Emma Parkin’s set design balanced domesticity with simplicity, giving a lived-in feel without distracting from the action. Bob’s reproduction of Van Gogh’s Starry Night has a little rainbow motif, a nice touch. Chloe Payne’s costume design worked well for all of the characters but especially Lois, whose pregnancy was very convincing.
The play contains strong language and references to HIV (only in passing- it does not affect the plot). As a domestic comedy, the homophobia in the play is the result of ignorance rather than malice. An aerosol is sprayed onstage, (not much and not for long) as we were warned before the play started. As a consequence, I was almost the only person in the front row, as if it were some kind of aerosol splash zone.
At two hours runtime (with interval) the play might possibly have benefited from an edit as it takes a while to gain steam, but this production still offers an evening of entertainment and a fun way to enliven a quiet weekend.