When it was first written in 1973, Mike Stott’s raucous Northern sex comedy was simply too outrageous to be staged in Britain. It had its premiere in Germany and it wasn’t until 1975 that the Liverpool Everyman was brave enough to risk staging a British production.
The fact that it gave the Everyman a major success, transferring to the West End and making stars out of its cast – who included Julie Walters, Pete Postlethwaite and Bill Nighy – is probably more a testament to the social conditions than any substantive quality in the writing.
The decades have not been particularly kind to the play, and with director Bob Tomson deliberately choosing to set this new production in the mid-1970s, everything about it seems just a little bit dated. The structure, the set-up, even the acting all have an air of old-fashioned values about them that makes the piece ultimately feel out of its time and something of a curiosity.
The story itself – young, newly married corner shop owner Trevor Tinsley is desperate to shake up his smalltown community by throwing off traditional sexual repression and exploring the unknown territory of free love – no longer has the power to titillate, and his on-stage nudity and extra-marital antics win laughs more for their quaint innocence than for any shock value.
But there’s plenty of humour to be mined from farcical elements such as the set-piece bunfight with the local baker’s delivery man, or the hospital scene in which a trussed-up Trevor discovers new depths to his dowdy wife Irene.
Performances are a little uneven, with many of the main characters cast from Tellyland. Corrie’s Craig Gazey ends up being rather eccentric as Trevor, playing the role for laughs rather than letting the script and setting do the work. Opposite him, Suzanne Shaw – late of Emmerdale – does a nice line in wronged woman but overdoes the facial reactions too often, while another Corrie graduate, Vicky Entwistle, gives us a variant of Northern battleaxe Janice Battersby as the local gossip.
Steven Blakeley, in the highly politically incorrect role of her “backward” son Stanley, wins the acting honours with his moving and sympathetic portrayal of a simple soul who doesn’t quite understand the world around him.
It’s a solid enough production that seems to go down fine with the audience, but it’s hardly a groundbreaking revival of a classic comedy. And nearly 40 years on from its premiere, you’d have to be pretty repressed yourself to be offended by anything on display here.