FringeReview UK 2017
Charles Dyer’s 1962 Rattle of a Simple Man directed by Harry Atkinson at Brighton Little Theatre Downstairs and virtually a two-hander, is the best-known play by Charles Dyer. This intimate bar production means exposure. It’s a marvel of compression. To Beverley Grover’s sensitive dim lighting with light and sound managed by Josie Durand, Tom Williams’ period set features a particularly fine sink area. Glenys Stuart’s costumes too work attractively. Till February 25th.
Charles Dyer’s 1962 Rattle of a Simple Man directed by Harry Atkinson at Brighton Little Theatre Downstairs and virtually a two-hander, is the best-known play by unjustly-forgotten Charles Dyer. This intimate bar production means exposure: considering we’re in a prostitute’s bedsit with the bed the main feature, that well, exposes the actors: every facial expression, every inflection’s inches away.
It’s a marvel of compression in other ways too. To Beverley Grover’s sensitive dim lighting, with light and sound managed by Josie Durand (Match of the Day blares at each half), Tom Williams’ period set features a particularly fine sink area. It’s seedily exact and cleverly ill-fitting, down to period mini-curtains and crockery. Millennial mixer taps were probably unavoidable considering they’re actually used more than once – this really is kitchen sink drama: dishes are washed, tea, crackers, cheese, spirits broken open in front of an Elvis poster. Glenys Stuart’s costumes too work attractively save for a very contemporary black slip and perhaps the red satin bedsheets.
It’s a heart-warming play, if rendered a little clunky by the brief intrusion of a third character, Ricard, brother of Cyrenne, the lonely prostitute nearing thirty who’s brought back an innocent forty-something virgin (as it transpires). Percy’s a Mancunian data-cruncher from a cotton factory down in London for an annual MU match, who lives with his mother and only came back with Cyrenne because his friend Ginger bet him fifty pounds.
Cyrenne as it transpires is her real name, though much else she confides to Percy isn’t. Leah Mooney, slinky but sexily weary never truly suggests the audience should believe her tales of an Oxford MA or a brigadier father, though she knows Percy does. Mooney’s neat double-think edges her accent awry from such a background, rendering our complicity. When her world falters, she reacts with anger, sudden coldness or touchingly a welter of tears, in a close-up speed-read of a life.
Percy emerges as hapless, open, even finally to his bravado’s veneer stripped off before his undies ever are. Everything’s dressed though by Cyrenne’s wit and Percy’s sudden shafts of jokiness. ‘I’m everything the French laugh at about the English’ and in truth he’s gently obsessed with cleaning dishes more than sullying Cyrenne’s sheets. Des Potton, wonderfully ungainly, red-faced, physically awkward plays this grey virgin to perfection, achingly wasted by time as Cyrenne’s tainted by experience.
Whilst Percy’s bluster of sexual experience is seen through easily, and fears of not being ‘normal’ encourage all Cyrenne’s gentleness, her own isn’t. Cyrenne’s a virtuoso fantasist for a reason; though the telling detail of drawing her brother naked is one fact sadly confirmed.
Both are damaged in part by families. Cyrenne’s is presciently explained in a world familiar now: abuse, ostracism, a brother seeking to reclaim her. It’s not even as if she’s been a prostitute for long. Nurse and typist preceded this more lucrative ‘realising my assets’. But why?
Percy’s fears and Cyrenne’s exasperation often abrade but Percy only exits when Ricard arrives: Benjamin Taylor in a cameo runs through a gamut of plea-bargaining to return to running the restaurant, exposure (to us) near-violence, reconciliation, drinks and dismissal when Cyrenne collapses.
But Percy’s left his rattle behind. In this tender choreography of rapprochement, there’s no easy resolution. No sooner have the pair decided to take a week off on the fifty pounds won (a tidy sum then) than Percy answers the phone. What follows exposes everything that’s raw. How to even broach a reaching-out must be seen.
Charles Spencer reviewing the Comedy Theatre’s 2004 revival praised Dyer’s output whilst noting the brief intrusion’s clunk. It might seem quite tame now, even sentimental, but its language and themes make it far less dated than you’d think, and the sentiment’s held at bay. Dyer’s gentle probing of loneliness deserves this fine, thoughtful, very welcome revival; Mooney and Potton bravely bare all their vulnerabilities at the least.