Royal Flush is unusual in several ways. It owes its existence to two companies, Rich Seam Theatre and Harrogate Theatre, yet is essentially the work of only two men, writer Nick Lane and actor Matthew Booth, who, I gather, shared the direction between them. Also it is not one play, but two, different in tone and historical setting, but with all kinds of elements in common: Thomas Crapper, flush toilets, royal personages, attitudes to the old and the poor, the town of Thorne, even Frankenstein. It is also unusual in that Messrs. Lane and Booth welcomed reviewers in for its very first appearance before an audience. Perhaps it could take a touch of pruning, but Matthew Booth commands his material with remarkable control for well over 2 hours of stage time.
In the first play the eminent innovator in bathroom plumbing, Thomas Crapper, born in Thorne, near Doncaster, looks back over his life from 1882 when he is about to install his new improved toilets for the Royal Family at Sandringham. Nick Lane uses the workable pretext of a letter he is writing to a woman he briefly loved when they were young. The play is a nice mix of historical fact, imaginative characterisation and humorous invention.
The interval moves us forward 130 years to an old people's home in Thorne and a 40-year-old toilet cleaner whose selfishness has somehow never brought him any rewards. His secret scam to take advantage of a royal visit leads to an ingeniously farcical plot, a suitably daft comment on the more serious comedy of the first half.
The simple sets work well enough and the limited use of sound and lighting effects is always well handled, but this is mainly about words – and, in a long tour of one- and two-nighters mostly in Yorkshire, Royal Flush should be impervious to the conflicting demands of different settings. Nick Lane's script changes gear neatly between the plays, as does Matthew Booth's acting: apart from successfully projecting a very different protagonist, he varies style for the other characters in the narrative, broadening into comic caricature in the second half.
After its run at Harrogate Studio Theatre (3-7 September) Royal Flush plays the following Yorkshire dates in the course of it tour: