There seem to be two quite different plays fighting it out in Chris Paling’s The Final Test which has just run begun a short tour. One is a classic British farce, all brittle, two-dimensional misunderstandings. The other is a look at how real –life husband-and-wife relationships might develop over the passage of decades. The trouble is that the result, just like the broadcast cricket match commentary which dominates the action, is a draw.
Paling is, I think, much more interested in his male than his female characters. We first meet Peter, a retired engineer whose wife Ruth has had enough of being sidelined for the past 40 years, and has sold their home. Completely engrossed by the fortunes of the national teams battling it out at The Oval, Peter seems to have signed everything put in front of him unaware – and not even noticed that the removal men have already cleared the house.
Enter the new owners, a younger couple called Susan and Ray. You can’t blame Susan for objecting to her new home’s previous owner squatting in the garden – well, I can’t, but perhaps that’s because I too am a woman. Calling in the police doesn’t shift Peter either; it just gives Michael Garland a chance to present an unusually terpsichorean member of the force. Then Ruth returns, but not quite the old Ruth to whom Peter has grown too accustomed.
The cast does its best with all this. Colin Baker plays Peter as a sort of fluffy amoeba and Karen Ford’s Ruth, though one can sympathise with her frustrations, has perhaps too hard an edge. Both Nicola Weeks and Peter Amory inhabit the characters of Susan and Ray as snugly as the script allows. Ian Dickens’ direction is as pedestrian as the script and, although the garden setting of Alan Miller Bunford looks credible, he’s missed a trick or two as far as the cut-away interior of the house is concerned.