Plays with similar themes seem to becoming a bit of a habit with us.
Following on from last week’s Once in a Lifetime which took a pop at playwrights struggling to make sense of being holed up in Hollywood studio basements comes Rodney Ackland‘s possibly semi-autobiographical not-seen-in-London-for-over-eighty-years After October.
Clive Monkhams (Adam Buchanan) is a struggling playwright (tick) living with his mother (Sasha Waddell) and the lodger/girlfriend Frances (Jasmine Blackborow) in their reduced-circumstances Hampstead basement (tick) home. Father Monkham has died leaving the family to fend off the bailiffs. Clive’s new play is to be produced in the glittering West End. But will it be a hit enabling them to keep their furniture and their adult entertainment-loving housekeeper (Josie Kidd – dryly amusing) in gainful employment?
Everything depends on his serious anti-war play, though the descriptions of it sound pretty dreadful. Despite this Tiggerish optimism abounds. Characters challenge Clive’s decision to have a comedy moment, just before its climax, where a character’s wig is pulled off revealing her as bald. Sounds like the best bit to us.
Family, friends and fellow creatives drop in constantly and fill the cramped performing space in Oscar Toeman’s very busy production. Impoverished poet Oliver Nashwick (Patrick Osbourne) pops in and out through the sash window to sponge off them and stuff his face with sponge. On the Finborough’s bench seating you’ll find yourself in the Monkam’s convincingly created sitting room (design Rosanna Vize) and constantly pulling your legs out of the way for the actors, especially if you’re 6′ 4″ (like Brent) or being hit by a thrown cushion (Brent also).
It’ll also offer you an opportunity to admire the consumption of pickled onions, plates of potatoes and sponge pudding and especially the fine (and working) period vacuum cleaner and the rather impressive costuming. Phil chortled in delight when the hem of Waddell’s dress caressed a plate of sandwiches knocking the top slice of bread off before she occupied herself with some slightly awkward crust removal and slicing.
It all moves along very amusingly and briskly despite the 2 hour 40 minute running time. The performances are all deliciously sound and well-rounded despite there being 11 characters to contend with.
Special mentions for Wadell’s Celia Imrie-ish failed actress mother who flits around skittishly boring anyone prepared to listen to her heard-them-all-before theatrical anecdotes.
The very much Whinger-approved Beverley Klein provides fun as Marigold a successful Buxton am-dram actress, who may be getting a shot at the big time. How we laughed as she described her eccentric opening night outfit as “ultra”. Another word “bobbish” (hearty, in good spirits) is used throughout: Andrew entered it into his lexicon immediately. Phil marvelled when Marigold produced a period cheque book then wrote and tore one off. The attention to detail is splendid.