Friday, February 11, 2011

Ever tried to borrow a bed? Rosie and I are on the hunt for the sole but vital prop/set for Four In A Bed, the next Nevertheless production Upstairs at the Lamb in Frome early next month. We found this eminently portable one in the local bed shop but sadly failed to negotiate custody. The quest continues as the plays go into rehearsal - two by me and two by Rosie, each written to feature this as-yet missing item. Watch this space - and lets hope audiences find it filled by March 10th, our opening night.

“In the guise of a smart comedy of manners, The Constant Wife is in fact ablaze with anger about the injustices of the married state,” begin the programme notes for this Salisbury Playhouse revival, so you might think this study of hypocrisy among the upper class is a kind of early stab at feminism but – as Somerset Maugham’s own wretched marriage could confirm - that would be an oversimplification. Written in 1926, set in the London of Bertie Wooster's aunts, this is a wealthy world where a woman who decides that living off her adulterous husband makes her feel like ‘a prostitute who doesn’t deliver’ can turn her hand to interior design and make her own fortune. Although the play is overlong, with too many speeches to represent attitudes rather than create three-dimensional character, this production delivers some notable highlights. In the first act these came mostly from Maggie Steed as Mrs Culver, mother of the pragmatic Constance, who brought Wildean aplomb to her one-liners, but by the third act (bizarrely crammed onto the second though set a year later) the pace began to liven overall. The final scene is a scorcher, with Constance in full revolt against the values of her age (“Men are meant by nature to be wicked and deceive their wives, women are meant to be forgiving” expostulates her mother vainly) and what seemed a brittle revenge plot becoming suddenly moving when Constance speaks of the lure of feeling loved. And it’s here her previously preposterous husband (David Michaels) steals the scene, creating a real sense of personal journey as well as the comedy of his come-uppance. Colin Falconer’s set design, all opulent creams and golds, is sumptuous.

When you're talking about plays, which I seem to do quite a lot these days, you stand on unshifting - albeit subjective - ground. Commenting on a television series is different, because scripts can vary week by week. I positively trilled about the first episode of Demons, and look what a load of old tosh that turned out to be. I'm reveling in How TV Ruined Your Life, but Charlie Booker's hyperbolic spleen is perilously close to rant overload. Nevertheless I'm going to take a deep breath and declare this series of Being Human, after a shaky second episode, is shaping up to be the best yet. This weeks's brilliant episode subtly explored dimensions of 'being human' - copy-cat killers and damaging mothers - which sadden even monsters, while providing some of the funniest lines yet.

And finally: there's a ditzy and delightful exhibition on at Frome's Black Swan gallery till March 20th: well worth a browse on a grey day.

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