If So, Then Yes
Jermyn Street Theatre Autumn 2010
With plays like A Resounding Tinkle and One Way Pendulum, N.F. Simpson was part of the British theatre's very brief flirtation with the Absurd in the late 1950s. A brand new play by the 91-year-old writer is thus a bit of a surprise as well as a cause for excitement.
If So Then Yes provides evidence that Simpson has not lost his skewed sense of humour or of reality, though it is perhaps not altogether successful as a play, sometimes seeming more a random collection of comic bits and pieces out of the playwright's notebooks.
At the play's centre is an ageing writer, evidently of no particular talent, attempting to dictate his memoirs to a secretary, only to be constantly interrupted by neighbours, staff and other visitors to the old folks' home where he lives.
Each of the interruptions and diversions is a self-contained gag, sometimes no more than a single line, sometimes an extended scene, and many of them are very funny.
But they come in no particular order and with no forward movement, and so this sometimes feels more like a theme less sketch show- the ghost of Monty Python is all-but-visible - than any kind of coherent whole.
There is one hint that it all has a point, as the play stops dead near the end for the lecture of a visiting speaker, whose subject appears to be the total uselessness of reason and rationality in coping with life.
But one of the few weaknesses in Simon Usher's direction here is that he has actor Steven Beard read the lecture so blandly that the only joke that comes through is how long and boring it is.
So the pleasures to be found in this production are not in the whole but in the parts - in sidesteps, digressions and throwaway gags about why Benjamin Franklin wasn't the first US President, why there were no walruses in Eden, the prospect of a fatwa from the Archbishop of Canterbury, nude mud wrestling as an Olympic event, Marx's dying words, Sartre's teeth, St. Francis's donkey, poetry-reading robots and the impracticality of handcuffing everyone in the world.
Enjoy them as they go by, and don't worry about tying them together, and you'll get an evening's worth of laughs.
Roddy Maude-Roxby plays the central character with an amiable vagueness that may sometimes be the actor's trouble remembering lines, while everyone else doubles and redoubles roles, Valerie Gogan frequently stealing scenes as the mainly silent but visibly reacting secretary.
Despite the reservation mentioned above, I salute director Simon Usher for manoeuvring them all so successfully around Jermyn Street's postage stamp sized stage.
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Review of If So Then Yes - Jermyn Street Theatre 2010