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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews

Archive: COMEDY 2002

For the Archive we have filed our reviews of several comedies from 2002 on this one page. Scroll down for the one you want, or just browse.

Alone It Stands - Bedroom Farce - Betty - Caught in the Net - The Constant Wife - Daisy Pulls It Off - Damsels in Distress - Home and Beauty - The Play What I Wrote - The Royal Family - The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband


Alone It Stands Duchess Theatre January 2002

Before we begin, you have to know these two things: that the New Zealand national rugby team, the All-Blacks, are and have forever been the best team in the world, and that in 1978 a local Irish team won a game against them.

Well, good for the Irish lads, say I, and I'm sure they have dined out on the story ever since. Now John Breen has turned the tale into a play of sorts, which has (unsurprisingly) been a big hit in Ireland, but doesn't seem to play as well away as it did on its home field.

Acting as his own director, Breen leads a cast of six, all of them playing multiple roles, through the lead-up to the big day, the game itself, and the aftermath. One central dramatic problem is that the game itself does not seem to have been very exciting ­ the Irish scored quickly in the opening minutes, and then not much of anything happened after that.

That might have been nail-bitingly tense at the time, and Breen has some fun showing us fans afraid to cheer because they're sure the tide will turn against them. But it doesn't make for particularly effective stage drama, and Breen has to cover the absence of action with other material.

A historically true off-field death is brought in, along with a fictional off-field birth, but neither adds much depth or texture, and seem too obviously padding and distraction. Even less integrated are a series of brief scenes of local kids preparing a bonfire, which seem to come out of a different play entirely.

Structurally and thematically, the play is blatantly copied from John Godber's 1984 Up'n'Under, about a hapless rugby team that got their act together and won the big game, even to the joke of having one actress among the men.

But Godber had the advantage of writing fiction, and thus being able to make the game exciting. He also wrote in a mock-heroic mode that engagingly sent up the cliches of the triumph-of-the-underdogs story even as he celebrated it.

But the main difference is that Godber, like most directors who employ the multiple-roles and instant-transformations style with their casts, recognized the necessity for speed and fluid choreography, turning the theatrical sleight-of-hand into a reflection of the story's mythic quality.

Breen directs in so leisurely and rhythmless a way that there might as well be a blackout between each scene, as the actors just freeze and then casually make their way across stage to their next impersonations.

A truism of sport is that on any given day any team can beat any other team. If the Irish have chosen to turn the 1978 Munster game into a national myth, that's their right. But John Breen's play doesn't have much to convince the rest of us or to make for a satisfying evening's theatre.

Gerald Berkowitz


Bedroom Farce Aldwych Theatre Spring 2002

Alan Ayckbourn's 1977 comedy is not one of his best, built as it is on a rather thin joke spread too far and padded out a bit desperately with extraneous gags. But in the right hands it can provide its share of chuckles, and the original National Theatre production (which my old notes tell me I wasn't particularly impressed by at the time) has grown in my memory.

There is little likelihood that this new revival will stick in my mind for 25 years, or even a couple of weeks, so thoroughly does it fail to capture any of the play's spirit and characterisations, or more than the occasional knee-jerk laugh.

The basic joke of the play is a quarrelling couple, each so neurotically self-absorbed that they see nothing odd about imposing themselves on others, phoning or visiting at 3:00 AM and the like. Each of the three couples they harass - two sets of friends and the man's parents - have their own comic situations, which the interlopers repeatedly interrupt or complicate.

One basic problem with this production is that it has been built as a vehicle for Richard Briers and June Whitfield as the parents. They are fun characters, and my strongest memories of the original are of Michael Gough and Joan Hickson quietly stealing the show. And of course Briers and Whitfield are performers of immense charm and impeccable comic skills.

But they are not the central roles. And the rather faceless actors cast around them are unable to carry the 80 per cent of the play that is not about the older couple.

This is particularly true of Jason Watkins and Rose Keegan as the neurotic central couple. In their hands both characters are at best mildly annoying, like the drunk who goes to sleep at your party and won't leave. They're almost never actually funny, and certainly not the monsters of self-absorption that Ayckbourn intended and the play needs.

Take one small point. Ayckbourn gives the man a signature tic of getting lost in the middle of a sentence and just fading out. Twenty-five years ago (in my other strongest memory of the original) Stephen Moore saw this as a sign of a man so enraptured by introspection that he lost interest in actually communicating with others, and the verbal gimmick became both a character insight and a funny running gag.

Watkins just reads the lines, evidently seeing nothing in them, and thus they're just not funny. Keegan is a bit better, making the wife the kind of whiney tears-on-demand weakling you want to throttle. But again you see line after line that you can recognize are meant to be jokes just going by with no effect.

As I noted, the basic joke of their bothering everyone else is thin, and Ayckbourn gives one of the husbands a bad back and makes the other a compulsive but inept DIY enthusiast staying up all night to build a desk, just to give them something to do when the wandering couple aren't around and to allow for some easy sight gags. (No points for guessing who's going to fall out of bed or what's going to happen to that desk when it's done.)

And everything about those subplots is poorly directed and performed, so that even the slapstick barely works - there's a particularly inept bit about a couple falling on a bed together that looks like the first try of the first day of rehearsals.

An almost universal failure of tone, characterisations and comic energy like this must be laid at the feet of the director, Loveday Ingram, who seems not to have known where some of the laughs were waiting to be found, and to have been unable to pace, structure or even block the others to their full advantage.

Even Briers and Whitfield, who are a pleasure to watch, are doing their own long-established TV characterisations and shtick, rather than being integrated into the play.

This one, I fear, is strictly for fans of the two nominal stars and for those seeking to fill a gap in their Ayckbourn experience - and both will be disappointed.

Gerald Berkowitz


Betty Vaudeville Theatre July 2002

This is, alas, the wrong play in the wrong production in the wrong theatre. And that's a shame, because in more appropriate settings Karen McLachlan's comic epic of sexual misadventures, and Geraldine McNulty's performance in it, can be a real hoot.

A 49-year-old virgin sits on a vibrating washing machine and discovers sex, and then becomes aware of a world full of rampant sexuality in the most unlikely places. Trying frantically to purify herself, she goes on what must be the funniest pilgrimage since Chaucer, only to encounter religion and sex bumping into each other all around her.

McNulty first performed this piece at the 2000 Edinburgh Fringe, where a small room and super-modest production allowed her to make full use of her comic skills, employing her rubber face and expressive voice to capture Betty's wonder, befuddlement and confusions of horror and delight. And I laughed almost without stop for a full hour.

The same text has now been newly directed by comic actress Kathy Burke for a West End theatre, and it's sad to report that the broader playing and more elaborate production merely make the piece look thinner. As one woman leaving the theatre said, "I laughed a lot, but there wasn't really much there."

Almost nothing that Burke has added, from more exaggerated double-takes, to an out-of-character sequence in which Betty unconsciously strikes pin-up poses next to her washer, to an elaborate rear-projection film sequence that dwarfs the actress -- almost none of that stuff works, and it breaks the rhythms of the material that does work, so that the real laughs in McLachlan's text and McNulty's performance are intermittent rather than continuous .

McNulty has been touring this play on the fringe circuit on-and-off for three years, and based on my Edinburgh experience I would have recommended a trip out of town just to see it. But at West End prices you're paying 50 pence a minute for an hour that I fear will leave you unsatisfied.

Gerald Berkowitz


Caught In The Net Vaudeville Theatre Winter-Spring 2002

There is more non-stop laughter in Ray Cooney's new farce than in any other activity you're likely to indulge in, with the possible exception of being tickled. Cooney is a virtuoso of stage madness, and has assembled a dream cast of veteran farceurs to make this play the funniest thing around, bar none.

Cooney has always worked within the farce formula  in which someone tells a lie to cover some indiscretion, and then has to tell ever-increasing and ever more elaborate lies just to keep the original one going. Our fun is in watching the liar's frantic thinking-on-his-feet and his amazement at his own desperate invention, while awaiting the inevitable collapse of the whole construct.

His special addition has been to have the central figure involve a friend in the plotting, so that the poor schnook of an innocent bystander (frequently in the past played by Cooney himself) is actually the one lying himself deeper and deeper into a hole.

Caught in the Net is a sequel to Cooney's 1980s farce Run For Your Wife, about a London cab driver with two wives in different parts of town, but you don't really have to know the original. For the purposes of the present play, the bigamist has managed to keep his two lives going for 18 years, but now the teenage son of one family and the daughter of the other have been chatting on the Internet and want to meet. The father's task is to keep them apart.

To do this, Robert Daws as the bigamist must constantly rush from one home to the other, frantically trying to catch one child or the other, and forbid him or her from leaving the house, while at the same time inventing some explanation for each wife about why he is so opposed to the innocent-seeming meeting.

The fun of this racing about is increased by the staging device of superimposing both homes on one set, so that actors inches apart are fictionally in two different places, and a door (there are eight of them, always a good sign in a farce) that is locked on one home suddenly opens to have someone from the other family enter.

But while Daws is offstage between homes, he leaves most of the cover-story-maintaining to a friend played by veteran TV comic Russ Abbot, the real star of the show.

Watching Abbot contort in pain as he listens to himself telling one person he's Daws, another that he's gay, and a third (on the phone) that he's a Scottish answering service, or seeing him try to keep track of the totally fictional offstage characters he invents to forestall the near-encounters of characters who mustn't meet - this is putting yourself in the hands of a master performer and just letting him take you where he wants.

Indeed, that's the feel of the whole show - that you are in the hands of real pros and can just let go. As Abbot's dotty father, who wanders into the play just to complicate matters, Eric Sykes gives a master class in comic timing and throw-away lines, while Carol Hawkins (playing the same character she did in Run For Your Wife) and Helen Gill are any comedian's dream straightwomen as the two wives.

And it goes without saying that Ray Cooney, directing his own script, has the rhythm, timing and escalating franticness of farce perfect.

This isn't Hamlet (thank God) but it is the opportunity to take your seat in a theatre with the absolute confidence that people who can do this better than anybody else around are going to make you laugh and laugh and laugh for two hours.

Gerald Berkowitz


The Constant Wife Apollo Theatre Summer-Autumn 2002

Somerset Maugham's 1927 social comedy is a marvellously contemporary-sounding rediscovery and a total delight. Without ever losing its gloss of wit and humour, it is actually About Something, giving you occasion (if you are so inclined) to think a bit between your laughs.

As a comic playwright Maugham was bookended historically between Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward, and is sometimes categorized with them, to his detriment.

While he is not quite in the same league at what they're good at - epigrammatic wit (though lines like "If women were ridiculous just because their husbands were unfaithful, there'd be a lot more merriment in the world" aren't bad) - he is miles ahead at what they can't do - create comedy out of real, sympathetic human characters.

The wife of the title is a society woman who is apparently the only one in her world who doesn't know that her husband is having an affair with her best friend. I won't give much away when I tell you that we eventually discover that she has known about the affair all along, but I can't tell you much beyond that, because everything from that point (about midway through Act One) on is one surprise after another.

Think of a half-dozen reasons why she would have put up with the affair, and you won't come up with the right one. Guess at a dozen things she might do next, and why she would do them, and you'll be wrong.

Maugham repeatedly turns our expectations about character, social norms and morality on their heads, to our continued surprise and delight. And in the process (and without spoiling the fun) he makes some telling points about marital and sexual politics.

The play is divided into characters who are built almost entirely on cliches and stereotypes and those who constantly violate our expectations, and, under Edward Hall's stylish and insightful direction, both groups come out looking good.

Consider, for example, Simon Williams as a sentimentalist who has loved a married woman from afar for decades but is too honourable to declare himself. He gets to express his conflict in a scene so delicately honest that he doesn't look ridiculous at all. And then, a few scenes later, he gets to look ridiculous in a way that is endearing and paradoxically makes us respect him all the more even as we laugh at him.

As the philandering husband, Steven Pacey is a collection of cliched reactions of bluster, embarrassment and male chauvinist blindness, and yet these combine in Maugham's hands and Pacey's confident performance into a wholly rounded and not unsympathetic character.

Linda Thorson as his mother-in-law combines elegant laid-back wit with a surprising and appealing insecurity, while Serena Evans is a no-nonsense modern girl prepared to discover that she doesn't have all the answers. Only Sara Crowe as the mistress has been under-directed to play a one-dimensional dumb blonde bimbo, and as a result seems to have wandered in from some lesser play.

Jenny Seagrove is primarily a light comedienne, and you can occasionally see the work it takes her to sustain the complex emotional depth of the title character while still keeping a comic tone. The strain was evidenced at the second night performance by a half-dozen flubbed lines, but as her confidence grows, her characterisation can only become even richer than it already is.

The danger about writing about a comedy with some meat to it is that you can make it sound heavy and unappealing. So let me stress that The Constant Wife is very funny. But it is also much more than that.

Gerald Berkowitz


Daisy Pulls It Off Lyric Theatre Summer 2002

Denise Deegan's 1983 play is a light-hearted pastiche of a genre of English girls' books, the adventures of plucky students at a girls' boarding school. (Americans, think of Nancy Drew or of Harry Potter without the magic.) A lowly scholarship student at a posh school survives the bullying of snooty classmates to win the big field hockey game, save some lives and find a hidden treasure, all while saying things like "How perfectly ripping!" and the like.

The play began two decades ago in Southampton, where Andrew Lloyd Webber fell in love with it and, putting on his producer's hat, moved it to London, where it had a three-year run. (He even provided some incidental music credited in the programme to the anagrammatic Beryl Waddle-Browne)

One wouldn't think of this pleasant little piece as a candidate for revival, but (wearing yet another hat as theatre-owner with a theatre to fill), ALW has brought it back.

Nineteen years ago I wrote of the original production that, under David Gilmore's direction, it had exactly the right balance of straight respect for the material and mild parody to make it a high-spirited romp. But now the same director has had unexpected trouble capturing the same benevolent archness, and too much of the play just lies there, looking and sounding like cliche-filled bad writing rather than clever parody or loving hommage.

This is particularly true of Hannah Yelland's Daisy, a vacuum at the centre of the play, giving no indication whatever that she sees this as either high adventure or high camp. But she's not alone, so the fault is not hers. She, and the others, are clearly following the orders of a director who has lost any sense of the tone and spirit the original production had.

Oh, there are a few moments when the right note is struck, and we, the cast and the author share a knowing wink while still feeling affection for the genre being sent up. Katherine Heath as our heroine's chum and Anna Francolini as the head snob's toady get it right most frequently, and Peter Harlowe, as a groundskeeper with a secret, tosses off a speech explaining the plot's convoluted back-story with exactly the right melodramatic earnestness.

Actually, things do generally get better in the second act, with the big game and the life-saving coming close to the right balance of excitement and parody. But these are all just brief islands of light in a generally dull landscape, and far too many of the text's jokes - the "Gee whiz" quality, for example, or the arch eyebrow-raising at the girls' innocent crushes on each other - just go by unnoticed.

This revival had a couple of weeks of previews before I saw it, plenty of time for them to have realised (if they were ever going to) what parts worked and what fell flat, and to have adjusted the playing accordingly, so I can't hold much hope that it will get any better . I doubt very much whether it will have a significant fraction of the original's long run.

Gerald Berkowitz

Damsels In Distress (GamePlan, FlatSpin, RolePlay) Duchess Theatre Autumn-Winter 2002

Labelled a trilogy, this is really a repertory season of three new Alan Ayckbourn plays. The author-director deliberately created these three independent comedies so that they could be played by the same seven actors on the same set, and that, which is really all they have in common, is a good part of the fun, especially if you choose to see all three. (They are performed individually on separate nights, with an all-day marathon of all three on Saturdays.)

So, for example, Bill Champion, who doesn't appear until the final minutes of GamePlan, has a featured role in FlatSpin and the lead in RolePlay, while Jacqueline King has a key role in the first, a bit in the second and a scene-stealing cameo in the third, and so on.

If there is a star to the trilogy, it is Alison Pargeter, who steals GamePlan in a secondary role, and has the lead in FlatSpin and an important part in RolePlay. (Incidentally, don't - as the lady behind me did - waste your energies trying to figure out the symbolic meanings of the titles. Theyıre just there, like Absurd Person Singular and Ayckbourn's other titles.)

GamePlan is, by a tiny degree, the weakest of the three, though it does have that show-stealing performance from Pargeter to recommend it. She plays the mousy friend of teenager Saskia Butler, who has decided to help her mother, played by King, out of financial difficulties by becoming a hooker.

The teen girls' attempts to turn the family flat into a brothel, to keep track of the false names they've chosen, to cope with their one customer (played by Robert Austin), who'd rather talk about his late wife than to get down to business, and eventually to face up to the cops (Tim Faraday and Beth Tuckey, the latter armed with a biblical quote for every occasion or malefactor) who are convinced it is the mother who is the part-time prostitute - these are the ingredients of a Ray Cooney-style farce that Ayckbourn typically gives a little more reality to than Cooney would.

There are a few brief scenes of mother and teen daughter pushing each other's emotional buttons that are attractively realistic and emotionally resonant as well as comic. But the real fun is watching Pargeter in what would be the Ray Cooney role if the character were male, the poor innocent caught in her friend's schemes and trying her darnedest to keep up.

In FlatSpin Pargeter plays a sex-starved young actress who meets cute with the boy next door (Champion) under a false identity. Double-entendres come thick and fast as the two have trouble keeping themselves from racing off to bed, only to have the plot suddenly shift gears as he turns out not to be who he claims either. And suddenly she finds herself in the middle of a police sting operation led by Austin, with Butler playing a commando just itching to impose grievous bodily harm on someone.

There are twists and double-twists in what actually could make an impressive mystery drama if Ayckbourn weren't playing it all for comedy, and it's full of comic set pieces, as when the actress responds to the commando's complaints about not being allowed to do what she was trained for with her own litany of an actor's frustrations.

With RolePlay Ayckbourn returns to his traditional territory of dissecting middle-class lives with sympathetic humour, and that may be part of the reason this is marginally the best of the three. A young couple who have been living together (Butler and Champion) prepare for their first dinner for their parents and the announcement of their engagement.

But the already tense situation is complicated by the appearance of Pargeter as a floosie escaping her gangster boyfriend upstairs, followed soon by one of his thugs (Tim Faraday) determined to hold on to her until his boss comes home. The unexpected dinner guests are joined by the invited ones - the girl's drearily ordinary parents (Austin and Tuckey) and the boy's mother (King), a languid and uninhibited AbFab-style drunk.

Culture clash, situational humour and the social evening from hell are tempered by unobtrusive and anchoring seriousness, like the broad's real fear of her abusive boyfriend and the host's growing realisation that his fiancee is doomed to turn into her boring mother.

All three of the plays, if perhaps not absolutely top-level Ayckbourn, are certainly on the A-list, and there isn't much basis to choose among them. You might as well simply let the calendar make your choice, and go to whichever is playing that evening. If forced to recommend one, I'd pick RolePlay, but then youıd miss Pargeter's delightful performance in GamePlan. Why not just see all three?

Gerald Berkowitz


Home And Beauty Lyric Theatre Autumn 2002

First husband is thought dead so wife remarries, but then number one suddenly reappears. The plot device has been used by dozens of plays and films, both comic and serious, but Somerset Maugham's 1919 play was one of the first and, at least in this revival directed in high style by Christopher Luscombe, one of the funniest.

In this case it's a dashing major thought killed in World War One, so that his air-headed society wife, after spending an appropriate year dressed in the most stylish of mourning, married his best friend, another major - thus, as she says, doing her part for the war effort.

But the first major was just a POW, and now he's returned to the family home, innocently thanking his buddy for looking after her so well, while they try to find a way to break the news to him and then to cope with the situation.

Maugham's major contribution to the genre is to have them men fight, in increasingly less civil ways, not over who will get to keep the girl, but who can stick the other with this vain and selfish birdbrain.

And director Luscombe has taken the very big risk of playing it all as high camp. At every minute you are aware that the exaggerated posing, the double takes and the broad parodic characterisations are in danger of collapsing leadenly. But - at least for me - they never do, and the result is a hoot from start to finish.

Understand that I intend it as praise when I say that Victoria Hamilton plays the wife like a really skilled and witty drag queen, or (Americans will get the reference) like Carol Burnett doing one of her old movie parodies. Every gesture and line reading is completely over the top, but she keeps it going with ineffable lightness.

Jamie Theakston and Alexander Armstrong as the two husbands spend much of the play as her straight men and feeds, but do it with style, and a supporting cast of reliable pros including Jane How, Charles Kay, Janet Henfrey and Jeanne Hepple each get a scene to shine in and carry some of the comic weight.

The whole thing is trivial in the extreme, and I am aware that to some people (and perhaps on some nights) the high camp might tip over into dreary excess. But if it works for you as well as it did for me, you'll have a ball.

Gerald Berkowitz


The Play What I Wrote Wyndham's Theatre 2002

This new offering by the comedy duo known as The Right Size is a thoroughly delightful tribute to two of their predecessors that is also a showcase for their own special comic talents and a virtual history of British comic styles.

It is not absolutely essential to know this, but it helps: Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were a much-loved British comedy team best known for a TV series and Christmas specials they starred in in the 1970s and 1980s, scripted by Eddie Braben. One running gag had straight-man Ernie convinced he was a great playwright, and conning guest stars like Glenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave into acting in his (i.e., Braben's) Carry On-style sketches.

The premise of the current show is that Sean Foley (the tall, balding one) and Hamish McColl (the shorter, wild-eyed one) have contracted to do a tribute to Morecambe and Wise, but that McColl imagines himself a playwright like Wise and insists on doing his version of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

After some complications, involving a third comic, diminutive Toby Jones, in a variety of roles, McColl has his way, and a surprise guest star (a different one each week) appears in his play.

One delight for Morecambe and Wise fans is that bits of Braben's original scripts are seamlessly incorporated into the frame material by Foley and McColl, and so the pleasures of nostalgia are added to the fun. But you needn't recognise the old material to find it funny, and you needn't even like the Morecambe and Wise style to find the rest of the show funny.

In their own frame material, which ranges from one- and two-liners to perfectly choreographed slapstick, Foley and McColl demonstrate what inspired clowns they themselves are. And at the same time they are happily and undisguisedly eclectic in their inspirations.

The student of British comedy will recognise echoes and borrowings from every source from the Goon Shows, through John Cleese, to the contemporary National Theatre of Brent. Indeed, you can go back even further, to the Marx Brothers, Olsen and Johnson. and the hoariest of music hall and vaudeville shtick ­ all revitalized and invigorated by the inventive duo.

Directing credit is given to Shakespearean Kenneth Branagh, who must have contributed to the unwavering pace and energy of the evening, though one suspects that the two creator-performers have polished their own performance style through years of working together.

Gerald Berkowitz


The Royal Family Haymarket Theatre Winter 2001-02

At one point in Kaufmann and Ferber's comedy about a theatrical family, Judi Dench's character defines as a fate worse than death being stuck in an all-star revival. The ironies, unfortunately, resonate through the whole lifeless, spiritless evening.

One minor problem with the current revival is that it has been marketed as a Judi Dench vehicle, when she actually has a fairly small and subordinate role. She plays the matriarch of an all-actor family - her son and daughter, granddaughter, brother and sister-in-law.

The minimal plot is generated when both daughter and granddaughter decide to give up the stage and marry dreary businessmen, but I will not be ruining any surprise if I say they get over that aberration by the final curtain.

The single joke of the play is that these people are all hams who never stop performing. Even in their home everyone jockies for the figurative spotlight and gives every single line a melodramatic reading.

The son, a Douglas Fairbanks type, swashbuckles around the room, smiling flirtatiously at imaginary movie cameras. The daughter poses languidly, and even grandma can't have a fainting spell without pausing to check its dramatic effectiveness. Anytime any speech or dramatic moment threatens to wander into sincerity, you can be sure it will be capped by a theatrical flourish of some sort.

And, as other productions have shown, that can be funny, if the show is done with unwavering high spirits and energy. Unfortunately, seen midway through the limited run, this company looks like a cast dispirited after a year on the road. Now, Dench and most of the people involved are all real pros, so they never really give up, and a few of the easier laughs filter through. But it is far too little, in a sea of yawn-inducing stasis.

Dench is given very little to do by the script, and has not found much to add to it, and one is forced to conclude that almost any competent actress could do as well as she does. As the daughter Harriet Walter is always a journeyman actress trying to play a star, and Toby Stephens makes the son attractive without ever being either glamorous or comic.

Peter Bowles and Julia McKenzie are shamefully wasted in the thankless roles of the brother and his wife, while Philip Voss shamelessly camps his way through the part of the family's loving manager-producer. Everyone else is invisible.

The whole is directed by Sir Peter Hall in the energyless-fashion-parade style that has become his signature mode in recent years, making it ever more difficult to remember that he once was a great director.

Even great actresses have the right to do something just for the paycheck once in a while (and Dench goes from this limited run direct to her next James Bond film), but I fear that the film fans who come to see the great Dame Judi in person will have to fill in all the gaps to let themselves think they've seen something special.

Gerald Berkowitz


The Woman Who Cooked her Husband New Ambassadors Theatre Autumn 2002

This revival of Debbie Isitt's adulterous comedy is not quite the success its producers would wish it to be. First seen in 1992, her dark study of rejection, deception and revenge neatly probes the mechanics of infidelity but, aside from a few belly laughs, it serves up little more -- even on paper during the planning stages it can't have looked that appetizing.

Purporting to come from the pen of an "experimental" writer, the format is a clunky series of comic flashbacks and asides that slowly reveal why an older woman, still scorned, has invited her ex and his new, younger wife to dinner on their third wedding anniversary.

It all leads up a cannibalistic denouement (the title sort of gives it away) but it's an almost arbitrary ending. In fact, there's a lot of comic situation going on here but a dearth of characters means there's nothing to make the comedy actually work.

In the hostess Hilary, Alison Steadman finds room to squeeze every drop of humour from her one-liners and pauses in her deliciously OTT portrait of an intelligent if loopy housewife learning to despise the man she loves.

Meanwhile Michael Attwell's Kenneth simmers with quirkiness as he struggles manfully to keep his head in a menage of his own making, abetted by Daisy Donovan's feisty Laura who wants so much more from a wedding ring. The latter two, however, struggle to flesh out their roles since the script denies them any spark of the passion you'd expect to be holding them together.

The actors' misery is most evident in Act II when the entire structure appears to fall apart and they are faced instead with huge wadges of monologue thrown in willynilly to air the playwright's polemics. That's not to say there are no good ideas here. Quite the opposite in fact.

The staging swings from Ayckbourn to pure farce, while dayglo sixties frocks, classic Elvis numbers plus an inventive yet relentlessly green fitted kitchen set, lit by primary colours, all conspire to evoke a certain kitsch. But it proves an impossible mix, really.

The decision to put Isitt in the director's chair was an unwise one -- if not disastrous -- since she compounds the weaknesses already inherent in her writing and leaves us only with a blatant waste of acting talent.

Nick Awde

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Review - Alone It Stands - Duchess 2002, Review - Bedroom Farce - Aldwych 2002, Review - Betty - Vaudeville 2002, Review - Caught in the Net - Vaudeville 2002, Review -The Constant Wife - Apollo 2002, Review - Daisy Pulls It Off - Lyric 2002, Review - Damsels in Distress - Duchess 2003, Review - Home and Beauty - Lyric 2002, Review - The Play What I Wrote - Wyndham's 2002, Review - The Royal Family - Haymarket 2002, Review - The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband - Ambassadors 2002
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