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Brief Encounter With ... Conjugal Rites' Andrew Keates

By • Off-West End
Conjugal Rites - the comedy stage play that inspired the hit 90s ITV comedy series starring Michael Williams - opens at the Courtyard Theatre tonight (2 June, previews 31 May) for a five-week run through to 3 July 2011.

Barry, a dentist and his wife Gen, a recently qualified family lawyer, awake on their 21st wedding anniversary to the reality of their lives. What happens after 21 years of marriage? Will He ever learn to put the toilet seat down? Will She ever give-up asking?

Director Andrew Keates, who helmed last year's production of Martin Sherman's Bent at the Landor and also collaborated with Stiles and Drewe for his recent production of their musical Just So, talks to us about his new production.


Can you tell us a little about Conjugal Rites?

It's about Barry, a dentist, and his wife Gen who realise their life consists of ageing parents, teenage children, sagging bodies, job disillusionment and the secrets and temptations that come from tying the knot. Set entirely in their bedroom, Conjugal Rites is a hilarious and sometimes bittersweet comedy.

It is is a marathon of a two-hander. And we have two wonderful actors: Alexandra Boyd, who Coronation Street fans will recognise (she had some great catfights with Liz McDonald!) and Gary Heron.

Their characters are faced with the basic human condition. All of our actions/inactions always boil down to one thing: Our want for something. What defines us as individuals is how these wants ultimately manifest. Just because we want something, does that necessarily mean that we should act on it? But if we cannot action our desires, what will materialise into our lives? Do they become an idle daydream or the greatest aspiration in our lives?  But what about the cogs and machinery that this philosophy is shaped by? The ticking clock that ticked so quietly in the back of our minds when we were younger that now seems to tick louder and louder. The alarms and whistles of our impending mortality as the calendar pages fall to the ground. The human condition of self worth in the face of mortality. As our mortal coils begin to unwind, we find ourselves asking. Did I really want that? and perhaps most frightening - Do I still want that? As each year passes our desires to fulfill our wants intensify - The once exciting now becomes the familiar. The question of contentment in our present circumstances rears its head and a whole new set of wants start filtering through our hearts and minds. Is the grass really greener on the other side?

What drew you to the piece in the first place?

It was the honesty of Roger Hall’s story. He has not created a chocolate box comedy of marital bliss, rather he has recognised that any kind of marriage is not sacred, particularly one that has lasted 21 years. The challenge of finding someone and getting them to the altar is only the first leg of the relay. In reality, hurdles are thrown at us every day, but just because we knock a few over in the long run, does that necessarily mean that we won’t reach the finishing line? And if so, does that finishing line become something quite different to when we first set our eyes on it? Do we even want to run the race anymore or do we simply give up and chase something else?

Idealistic morals are something for us to strive for, but seldom do they ever function in reality. We know this and we understand it, yet we cannot help but punish ourselves and others when we fail to reach the often impossible.

How do you feel about opening the production?

I am very excited. My hope is that everyone who sees it can connect with the situations and feelings that Barry and Gen face in this tough old world. I want to hide in the bar after the show and listen on couples and singletons' reactions. “You do that!” or “I realised that I do that too” or even “What is it that I really want?”. The show is such a funny, honest, piece that we can all relate to. It will also be wonderful to hear a real audience laughing, rather than giggling to myself over my notepad!


Conjugal Rites plays a five-week season at the Courtyard Theatre, opening on 2 June (previews from 31 May) through Sunday 3 July.


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