On entering the theatre we were confronted with a setting which in it's Spartan simplicity suggested we were about to witness a Grecian Tragedy, which I suppose in a way we were.
Kenneth and Hilary were married for nineteen years. Nineteen years in which Hilary in her spick and span kitchen has prepared, cooked and served gargantuan meals for Kenneth who, to put it mildly, has a healthy appetite.
Then Kenneth meets Laura who seems to represent all the things he thinks he has been missing. They embark on an affair, which quickly descends into a vortex of lies and deceit. Laura is young, sexy and finds Kenneth sexy. There are however a couple of problems – Laura is a bit of a slut and she is a hopeless cook. So Kenneth starts slipping back to Hilary for a little culinary consolation.
We first meet the three participants at Hilary's house to which she has invited Kenneth and Laura (now three years married) for an anniversary dinner. A dinner which Hilary with murderous and vengeful thoughts has prepared and is in the process of cooking very carefully indeed.
|Ray Newton & Loretta Freeman|
So a play about appetites or more correctly a play about hungry people. From the ageing Teddy Boy glutton Kenneth's constant cry of "I'm STARVING!!" through Hilary's loving, almost lascivious preparation of food and hunger for revenge to Laura who is on a diet anyway and so presumably always hungry not least for (as she elegantly phrases it) nookie.
There is pain and hurt here and sympathy is not confined to "The Wronged Wife".
As someone once said, "Every villain has his point of view" so Kenneth and Laura reveal during the progress of the play their own particular needs.
Before I discuss the performances in this crisp uncluttered production by Chris Janes in which moves and business were simple and unfussy, I would like to get off my chest the main problem I had. While this play needs pace in it's presentation, this production gave us mere speed which is not the same thing at all and indeed led actors occasionally to leap in with a reply to something which had not yet been asked, (a Cardinal sin!). It also was responsible for thought flying out of the window. Pace is not simply speaking very fast. Pace depends on thought and rhythm. A pause can be a part of pace. A play such as this needs the direction and performance of a Feydeau farce. Pace is thinking. Having said this when the actors sat back on the proceedings and took their time, some excellent performances emerged. Ray Newton's total incomprehension at the suggestion by Laura "Do yourself a sandwich" was splendid comedy acting. "Do myself a sandwich?". And Loretta Freeman as Laura delivering, deadpan her line "I'm on a diet!!!!" at the most unlikely moment was also beautifully timed. Claudia McKelvey as Hilary reveals in a very touching way a genuine desire to understand WHY?
All the actors in their soliloquies went to the heart of the play's pain and bitterness inherent in finding the grass is not greener elsewhere.
The play, delivered in a series of flashbacks stemming from the anniversary dinner at the beginning to the climactic last scene when Hilary serves the first course. "Mmmmm, fish for starters, fabulous! Fabulous!!!" Grunts Kenneth and proceeds to wolf not only his own portion but Laura's as well and inevitably starts to choke.
The play then veers into very black farce as the two budding Borgias from suburbia coolly watch as Kenneth writhes his last over the table and then calmly over a drink or two discuss the disposing of the body. Of course, HH
Hilary the cook has the answer! "Turn on the oven, 400 degrees F." she suggests, "We'll have to eat him, flush him down the loo".
This is a very funny exchange and the actors performed beautifully.
A final word on the lighting. I could see the intention behind the decision to use different colour washes at certain points to denote mood changes but this tended to a certain blandness where what was needed was a sharper focus on areas and faces especially in the soliloquies to isolate and define the moments more clearly. All in all though what came through the evening was the feeling I had that this was a very talented company.
I left the theatre feeling I had dined rather well!
Tony Wiles has been in the professional theatre for fifty years starting at the age of fifteen. He has worked as an actor, director and teacher, directing plays in England, America and Sweden, and teaching acting techniques at R.A.D.A., the Webber Douglas School, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.