Pros: Very amusing plays and strong performances from the cast.
Cons: A dud joke here and there, but they barely detract from the overall pleasure.
You’ll receive a nice welcome when entering St James Theatre studio for this, the second round of Lunchtime Fourplay. A cast member in character surprised me with an iced bucket and the offer of a strawberry. After an embarrassing amount of hesitation on my part, (I didn’t want a strawberry but she as the host seemed so eager for me to take one), I happily obliged. The kind of idiocy inside my head at that moment of choice – the inner voice saying ‘don’t take a strawberry if you don’t want one/No, take it you fool!’ – is the stuff comic plays are made of…
The mild absurdities of the way we follow the rules is what these four short plays are all about. All were funny and well acted by this cast of seven. Each one has some interesting insight, and the unity and order in which they’re presented is very satisfying.
Happy and Gay by Mary Steelsmith follows a conversation between two charismatic northern church ladies, as they prepare the local fellowship hall for a civil partnership celebration. One is progressive, the other stuck in her ways. Some of the jokes around straight old ladies trying to get to grips with gay culture were a little too obvious, but I did enjoy one of the women’s fixation on the word ‘bitch-slap’. The surprise ending comes incredibly fast but is rescued by the wonderful acting and touching dialogue.
In Vintage by Lucy Kaufman, the audience functions as this young couple’s psychotherapist. They confess the masquerade as living every year of their marriage stuck in the 1940s. This play has the greatest variation, with lighting, music, live war anthem, some jitterbugging and impressive Churchill impressions, all used to make light of the continuing obsession with all things vintage. I don’t think therapists are supposed to laugh at their clients this much!
Next, we move to the 1950s, as the sound of Sinatra’s ‘Love and Marriage’ suggests. The Needle and the Damage Done by Angus Brown sounds like an awful title but once the big reveal happens of the secret this man keeps from his wife, it makes perfect sense. She wants to know how a baby sock has ended up in the wash. The piece works well as a giant joke but it takes a while to get there.
With A Quiet Table for Four by Philip Lindsell, they’ve saved the best for last. It’s a great device to have actors personify the inner voices of two shy and insecure people on an Internet date. The inner voices are dressed in black and one cheekily advises the audience to ‘pay no attention’ to her obvious pleas for attention. As you can imagine, the dinner table is anything but quiet. Initially sleek and perfect, the menacing side of these self-critics sends the date on a tumble. The waitress has her inner voice too, and her Freudian slips when reading out the menu were laugh-out-loud brilliant. This piece becomes unexpectedly moving when the couple manage to be vulnerable with one another, silencing their inner voices, if alas only for the time being. Their genuine connection was spine-tingling.
For those needing to get back to work, the total performance time really is just under the hour. And if you’re someone who tends to come back from lunch sleepy and wishing the afternoon away, I would say seeing these lunchtime plays are likely to give you energy boost. Who knows, you might even be sufficiently inspired to break the rules and take the rest of the afternoon off!
Director: Nick Brice.
Writers: Mary Steelsmith, Lucy Kaufman, Angus Brown, Philip Linsdell.
Producers: Nick Brice and Cas Hodges for Bite-Size Plays.
Box Office: 0844 264 2140
Booking Link: http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/events/bite-size-lunchtime-fourplay-2/
Booking Until: 23rd May 2014