The Theatreguide.London Review
Rattle of a Simple Man
Comedy Theatre Spring 2004
Charles Dyer's play was old-fashioned when it first appeared in 1962, one more in a recognised genre of romantic comedies in which a mousy little man met a free-spirited woman and was lured out of his shell.
The special touch that made this one stand out was Dyer's making the girl as unhappy as the man, thus blending it with another common genre, the sweet little melodrama of two lonely people tentatively reaching out to each other.
Anyway, the play's mix of light comedy and pathos made it a hit forty years ago, and the world hasn't really changed so very much that it couldn't work today.
But it would need a far more nuanced production than director John Caird and familiar TV faces Michelle Collins and Stephen Tompkinson bring to it here.
To start with the single most damning flaw, there is absolutely no chemistry whatever between the two stars, who might as well be acting in different rooms and getting their cues by telephone for all the awareness of each other's presence they display. So any hope of romantic comedy is lost from the start.
When the slightly tipsy provincial clerk comes home with a London prostitute, we have to sense some sexual energy between them, however repressed, in order to be able to hope for the happy ending the convention demands.
If our sense from the start is that they really are as mismatched as they appear to be, then the only logical solution is for them to part and go look for some other play to be in.
The same is true for the dramatic level of the play. Unless we respond from the beginning to something sweet and fragile in each character that we want to see nourished and rewarded, then the plot twists that draw them closer or threaten to separate them just leave us cold.
Stephen Tompkinson can do befuddled, out-of-his-depth but basically decent in his sleep, and to a great extent does. His performance is a collection of familiar tics and bumbles, but at least he has this repertoire of comic shtick to fall back on, and he does generate a few chuckles along the way.
Michelle Collins brings nothing to the stage - no sexual energy, no perkiness or spice, nothing to suggest either that she could be this man's redemption or that she is in need of a white knight of her own.
Both for comedy and for pathos the play needs us to care about this couple and to want them to get together. And there is simply nothing up there on stage for you to care about.
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