This Michael Leigh play, famous particularly for the TV version starring Alison Steadman, is superbly written, thought provoking and satirical. It gleefully, and at times tragically, exposes the snobbish self-perception of the middle classes. Much of this could have been lost in this 21st century revival, but it isn’t.
True, the play is clearly targeted towards an audience who have already seen the television play. There were murmurs, sometimes very loud, in the audience, giving away the plot to come. Bad luck on the few in the audience who didn’t know what happened at the end. Nevertheless, this revival of the stage play still more than holds its own.
Jill Halfpenny, the ex-Eastenders actor, plays a great wayward, self-deceived Beverly, in the same spirit as Alison Steadman. That she was actually frustrated with the boredom of her middle class life, and her boring work-obsessed husband, was clear. We hate her for her mistreatment of her husband, but still understand it, and also feel for her entrapment.
Her husband, played by Andy Nyman, also had that perfect blend of excruciating and funny. There is a perfect moment where he shows off his well-bound complete Shakespeare to the lower class visitors. He opens it at Macbeth, pauses... and dismisses it as ‘entirely unreadable, of course’, before stuffing it back on the shelf, momentarily abashed.
If we have a criticism, it is that this production plays too often for laughs, at moments which should be predominantly tragic. This is always a potential pitfall with tragicomedy. The closing scenes were roaringly funny, noisy, and repellent. By contrast, the end of the film was touching, and thought provoking. A production which had managed thoughtfulness in parts, slipped a little at the end.
This matinee audience was mainly made up of a middle-aged demographic for whom the ‘issue’ of the rise of the middle classes would have been memorable. With the classic 70s decor, pop culture and ‘blue nun and volovant’ attitude taking the brunt of the satire, its a great opportunity to laugh at social snobbery of the 70s.