Tom Glover’s one-act comedy has plenty of gags, some fine actors and an essentially interesting conceit but it doesn’t really gel as a full-length play. Feeling very much like it belongs in the first phases of ITV pilot writing from a few decades ago, this play is not especially funny nor particularly important although it makes attempts at both.
Kevin Tomlinson plays Simon, a 37-year-old intruder alarm salesman in pursuit of his big bonus by scamming vulnerable householders with fear-mongering. Played broadly, Tomlinson is offered a caricature of a role to begin with and certainly fills it out as expected. Whether it’s down to Glen Walford’s direction or Tomlinson’s performance is hard to unpick, but the timing during the expository scene with (seemingly) ‘little-old-lady’ Flora (played by Marlene Sidaway) is off. Moments that might have been hilarious, played opposite the superlative Sidaway, are cringe-making. The audience doesn’t have to experience the extended purgatory of beholding Simon’s onanistic self-indulgence to get the release of the truthful declaration that he is, of course, ‘a wanker’ as the ostensibly demure Flora reveals with vigour and conspiratorial charm. His crassness and selfishness are well established – with monotony that gets tedious fast – in about a third of the time it runs before called out by Flora.
At this stage, we could be a few minutes away from concluding what would be a palatable and entertaining recurring character sketch-show construct. There are flickers of very funny writing in Glover’s work but it is plotted in a paint-by-numbers construction as if forced to get to the 70 minutes Trading Standards requires in order to describe it as a ‘full-length play’. If Glover really wants to extract the laughs from his ‘grannies with guns’ set-up (which is not particularly original fodder) he might be better off just writing the scenes he finds amusing and interspersing them in a sketch or variety review show.
On the other hand, there are ideas beyond the gags that are looking for a home. The problem is that whilst some of his points almost call for an orchestral score underneath them (just in case the call for pathos isn’t obvious enough!) they either don’t go anywhere except finger-wag or they remain undeveloped. The construct of being the ‘military wing of Age UK’ got belly-laughs and has something to it. But, Glover parodies a political, extremist gang whilst entirely skirting anything political. Whilst the likening of care homes to ‘prisons’ is a plea to love and respect our elders, his claims of ‘invisibility’ when putting politics squarely in our minds feels odd in a nation where OAPs are the strongest, most feared and therefore most obeyed voting bloc. Simon’s own grandmother comes into the conversation on more than one occasion. In its final moments, there is a chilling and authentic moment that is sadly thrown away for laughs and goes nowhere. He describes her as ‘an evil cow’ and gets the laugh when he adds she’s not ‘evil’ like Flora (said with admiration). When Simon is finally humanised, why do we not get to glimpse human complexity anywhere else in the story? Is that because we are in a 90s ITV comedy lab and we don’t need to think because we’re setting up the next broad gag?
Ian Redford is very good as George. He manages to straddle the radical shtick and human connection – embodying his role with a mix of aged aches and butch appeal. The chemistry between Flora and George is credible thanks in part to Redford’s stage presence. (Even if the sex gags are also a bit hackneyed and patronising: shock ‘old people do it! OMG!’)
Glen Walford has an impressive track record of developing and directing one-woman shows with very funny performers. Marlene Sidaway is a powerhouse and her comic timing is strong. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if this play were adapted to a recurring TV sketch format and if it gave us more Flora/Marlene where might this go?
Review by Mary Beer
Quentin Tarantino meets Last of the Summer Wine in this wickedly funny, high octane comedy about growing old passionately and disgracefully.
When unscrupulous, over-confident salesman Simon Sudgebury comes knocking on the door of the seemingly timid Flora Parkin, hoping to scare her into buying an expensive alarm system, little does he realise what he is about to let himself in for. Feisty, charismatic 75-year-old Flora and her gentle 72-year-old ‘toy boy’ lover George are not what they first appear!
KEPOW! Theatre and Veritas Theatre in association with Park Theatre present
Beneath The Blue Rinse
By Tom Glover
Directed by Glen Walford
Designed by Felix Waters
Cast includes Marlene Sidaway (Coronation Street), Ian Redford (Coronation Street), Kevin Tomlinson (Spiral, Park90).
Booking to 15th June 2019