FringeReview UK 2018
Directed by Faye Woodbridge. Steven Adams and crew have constructed a set where three flaps open up along the back’s skyline revealing centrally a restaurant where we open – the flaps’ reverse makes up a new wall, with various additions brought on. The flanking flaps open up as empanelled walls to two separate consulting rooms. A side-panel later opens as yet another slide-out of furniture is neatly effected.
The period details, the music is Tina Sitko’s operation, as is the lighting, designed by Beverley Grover hitting the right glare for each space. Eleanor Medhurst’s and Ann Atkins’ costumes effect the right early eighties’ slink, medallion man complete.
Every so often Brighton Little Theatre’s humour – it executes a neat line in comedies – almost gets the better of it. Last September we had A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody, and though this isn’t quite genre, we’ve been visited with another American kooky. Beyond Therapy is Christopher Durang’s decidedly silly 1981 farce about an ad-date couple who bring their therapists into the bedroom (literally in one case) and can’t get them out.
It’s neatly directed by Faye Woodbridge. Two great things about this production shine out. The acting, and the set. Steven Adams and crew have constructed a set where three flaps open up along the back’s skyline revealing centrally a restaurant where we open – the flaps’ reverse makes up a new wall, with various additions brought on. The flanking flaps open up as empanelled walls to two separate consulting rooms. A side-panel later opens as yet another slide-out of furniture is neatly effected. This is Bruce’s and Bob’s home. The whole set’s another marvel and I hope these things are somehow documented and archived to some degree. There’s nothing to compare with this quality short of professional London theatres.
The period details, the music – (the second press night in arrow where they’ve played Hotel California) is Tina Sitko’s operation, as is the lighting, designed by Beverley Grover hitting the right glare for each space. Eleanor Medhurst’s and Ann Atkins’ costumes effect the right early eighties’ slink, medallion man complete.
It’s a riot of pre-Lapserian American innocence. As the great Gary Yonge said in the Guardian of Iraq. We’re always hearing about the American loss of innocence. They always seem to find it again just in time for the next bad idea. ’It’s pre-Lapserian because Ciaran O’Connor’s Bruce is bisexual and has an understandably insecure lover Bob, furious at Bruce’s therapist’s assurance that all he needs is a god woman: she writes his ads. You cans see how this is so pre-AIDS.
Meanwhile Prudence’s therapist Des Potton’s menacing Dr Stuart Framingham wants to solve Prudence’s sexual and confidence problems by having sex with her – again. A premature ejaculator and judger, he’s so abusive its comical. She can’t even leave till the full hour’s up. Jade Doig catches Prudence’s kooky conventions perfectly. Under the lack of confidence which means she doesn’t march right out, Prudence is mildly homophobic, conventional though vaguely liberal and writes a column.
So Bruce opening up about his male lover (see it’s pre-AIDS) and crying easily as his therapist told him to isn’t on the a la carte. After trying affirmation and then revulsion, they break fof without service arriving. But with new ads they find themselves back together on another ad-date. This time they somehow end up in bed and Bruce we hear is a far better lover than the abusive therapist, being in touch with his feelings and so on. O’Connor effects a neat tightrope between silliness and campness, never plunging headlong into the latter, as indeed the production refuses to.
We’re subjected to lots of duets, therapist-patient, the frangible couple, or the fragile trio as Bob stubbornly muscles in on Bruce and Prudence – who always threatens to leave but apart from their first date, never quite does. The long unwinding finale takes place as Bruce refers Prudence to his therapist – the Snoopy-stroking Jungian Mrs Charlotte Wallace (the superbly batty Patti Griffiths) who insists on trying to remember what her word-association originally led back to. Fro instance porpoises are in fact patients. This is useful alter on. Even the restaurant waiter Andrew is a patient of hers. But the seraphic Wallace has no notion Bruce is gay. She just hasn’t been listening. Nothing daunted she tackles Bob. And the gun he pulls out on her firing wildly. Blanks. What a good idea, it’s clearly working and she takes him off to the restaurant where no-one serves you to allow him to express his feelings with a gun. Oh, and the now insanely jealous macho Framingham has turned up skulking behind a flower pot. Neil Drew revels I the neat fussy and mother-smothered Bob, marc Pinto the sultry waiter Andrew complete an excellent cast with cast-iron New Yorker accents. Doig enjoys the best of it with her Brooklyn-inflected whoining sounds, enormous fun. Durang’s friend Signoury Weaver created the role. Now go and see it.
Durang himself is gay and very quickly tackled the AIDS epoch, but chose here laughter before the storm, a sunny last look – it was later that year that AIDS loomed officially on the horizon, colouring the play. In one sense the paly succeeds brilliantly in tripping up all our received notions – even referencing Sunday, Bloody Sunday that great gritty realist look at such a love-triangle exactly a decade earlier.
Durang here though seeks a conclusion that needs fast pacing and a zippiness to cover its essentially farcical ending. Slow it up and it start becoming incredible. This production needs just a zip more in its latter stages – difficult to achieve on a small stage. Then it’d hang more convincingly, since you’d only remember the smart lines and not trip on the daftness. You want Bruce and Prudence to be happy till the lights go down, and to do that it needs a supreme breathlessness, then a slow exhalation at the very end. Worth seeing still, since it deconstructs our notions, it doesn’t really deliver characters.