Some showbiz names are so inextricably linked as to almost be inseparable: Burton and Taylor, Morecambe and Wise, Rogers Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jannette and Ian Krankie, Phil and Andrew. And then there’s Jenny Seagrove and Bill Kenwright.
But creatives providing gainful employment for ‘er indoors is nothing new in showbiz. Think Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, (more ‘er next door in their case). Think Woody Allen and Mia Farrow (more ‘er across Central Park in theirs).
Having told a friend he was seeing Jenny Seagrove in Bedroom Farce Phil received a rhetorical text to enquire, ”Is it a Bill Kenwright production?”. It’s a running gag. Of course it was. And why not?
But as the Whingers sat in the stalls of the Duke of York’s Theatre occasionally laughing gently but drowned out by the more rambunctious gales of laughter around them it quickly became clear that Seagrove was very much earning her keep and providing more than her fair share.
Three bedrooms placed side by side provide the setting for Alan Ayckbourn‘s 1975 comedy, perhaps it’s a DFS furniture store showroom? Four couples, three beds, a single night, a neat set up for chaos. Elderly Delia (Seagrove elderly? What’s Kenwright telling her?) and Ernest (David Horovitch) are celebrating another anniversary after an unfulfilling dinner (“Don’t over-tip, Ernest. These waiters don’t like it”) and hope for a quiet night. Kate (Finty Williams – perkily amusing) and Malcolm (Daniel Betts) are having a party, their bed lost under a pile of coats. Nick’s (Tony Gardner who excels at bouncing between sardonic and irascible) laid up in the third bed while his wife Jan (Sara Crowe) goes to the party. Then there’s Susannah (Rachel Pickup) and Trevor (Orlando Seale) whose lives are connected to the other three couples.
But clever as the set up is it struggles to keep the couples in the bedrooms at times. Why some of the events happen in the boudoirs is stretched beyond breaking point at times. You don’t so much need to suspend your disbelief as hang, draw and quarter it.
It teeters dangerously on the precipice of sitcom, with damp patches, bad backs, flatpack furniture and eating pilchards on toast (Why pilchards? Because Delia’s run out of sardines. And pilchards are funnier than sardines, in the same way that Nuneaton is funnier than Northhampton) attempting to provide hilarity. If the cast, almost without exception, weren’t so adept at squeezing out the laughs you might as well stay in and watch one of the funny episodes of My Family (They must surely exist although we’ve never seen one).
Perhaps they thought they were at home watching it? Mobiles were going off throughout the first act, even Andrew’s doo dah went off in the second, “It turned itself back on” he pleaded after the show. Of course it did. Phil was forced to suspend his disbelief yet again.
But surprisingly the Whingers who haven’t been having much luck with Ayckbourn (were they alone in finding their single Norman Conquest a laugh-free zone?) found themselves laughing along. True, they weren’t like the woman behind them, screeching like a hyena on Meow Meow. She seemed to find humour in every line, it was contagious and made the Whingers laugh more than anything that was happening on the other side of the proscenium.
But others who didn’t have the benefit of this laugh-track or possibly laugh-claque sitting nearby weren’t so amused. Friends of the Whingers were signally unamused and hightailed it at the interval claiming it was dull and unfunny. Two other acquaintances – possibly Marxists – proclaimed it “Too middle class” though you do have to wonder what they were expecting from an Ayckbourn play. Socio-realism?
The Whingers spotted Kenwright and director Sir Peter Hall entertaining the now infamous theatre critic Tim Walker in the bar at the interval. Now you’d never spot the Whingers schmooozing with the creatives like that would you?