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 The Theatreguide.London Review 

Southwark Fair

Cottesloe Theatre     Spring 2006

Samuel Adamson's new bittersweet comedy is set in contemporary Southwark, the London district along the Thames that isn't quite trendy, though it may become so in the next few years.

In the course of a day a half-dozen characters experience small tragedies and small joys. It doesn't all add up to very much beyond the observation that life and love are both full of endings and beginnings.

But the characters are generally attractive, the overall tone is warm and humourous, and the time you spend in their company is quite pleasant.

A homosexual man is thrilled to have received a call from his first love after years, only to discover when they meet that the other guy misremembered names and was actually looking for a reunion with someone else. Another gay couple realise on their wedding day that one of them is just too closeted for the relationship to work. An embittered former singer rediscovers the joy of music. And an old lady loses her favourite hat.

Did I mention that the cast includes a guitarist with one hand, an Australian whistle-seller, the Deputy Mayor of London, a waiter who may or may not be Polish, and an actress who hasn't worked since the 1970s but is sure the call for a starring role is coming?

By the end of the day, two relationships will have ended, two will die before they even get started, and two new ones will be beginning. And the lady will get her hat back.

It's all very gentle, all ruefully funny in a non-Jewish-Woody-Allen way. You come to like these people, and are happy that things turn out pretty well for most of them.

(It is noticeable that the one most unpleasant character is allowed to fade away with his plot line unresolved, almost as if the playwright didn't want to spoil the tone of the ending by dealing with him.)

There's a structural surprise that I won't spoil except to note that it was novel when Alan Aychbourn used it three decades ago. It allows for a few extra laughs but really doesn't amount to much.

Rory Kinnear invests the central character with just the right note of amiable shnookiness that establishes him as one of life's losers, but one whose defeats will never be of tragic proportions.  Con O'Neill gives the bad guy enough depth to let us see the pain of self-recognition in him, and Michael Legge nicely lets the waiter develop naturally from seeming extra to major character.

Margaret Tyzack is not given much to do as the actress but, as always, she effortlessly steals all her scenes. Nicholas Hytner directs with the delicacy this fragile little play needs.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Southwark Fair - National Theatre 2006
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