Date Reviewed: 31st January, 2009
Venue: Oldham Coliseum
Absolutely Frank might only be a two hander but it’s a play with an important question at its heart: what happens to a man who has done the same job since 16 but finds himself redundant at 56? Is change possible, working under a boss half his age?
Still best known as Corrie’s Eddie Yates, Geoffrey Hughes plays malcontent Frank, a frustrated thriller writer whose day job involves erecting signs on the tops of buildings. Frank wants a more glamorous life: ‘To be immortal – for a bit, anyway.’ Yet his various novels – The Spy Who Came in from the Warm included – all remain unpublished: Frank blames God for cursing him with ambition but no talent. Young trainee Alan (Des O’Malley) is the mirror opposite; gifted but blessed with a laissez faire attitude. Then Frank discovers he’s soon to be out of a job. Does the scrap heap beckon?
Absolutely Frank began life as a one-act play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. This is no handicap as Act 2 ingeniously finds the former mentor and apprentice reversing roles. Firth cleverly spoofs the world of high-pressure retail selling, and its obsession with motivational acronyms (S.P.A.P.O – Smile/Personal Attention/Personally Own). Yet he shies away from exploring Frank’s broken dignity by contriving a pointless slapstick finale, and the issue is not mentioned again. Ignorance is bliss – a writing maxim beloved of Coronation Street scriptwriters. Odd then that Firth has never written for the programme.
On opening night, Hughes appeared nervous and unsure of his lines, and for such an experienced performer, his comic timing was unusually off. Yet he brings warmth to the character, and there is an undeniable chemistry between him and O’Malley, a gawky bundle of youthful energy. I’d like to see these two perform together in something with greater depth.
None of which is to diminish Firth’s skill as a comic writer. He can write a one-liner with the best of them (‘Taking notes is the mental equivalent of sitting on a stair-lift’, observes Frank). But it would be good to see him stepping outside his comfort zone occasionally.
The Coliseum audience loved it, though.