The particular confection that is Relax, written by Robert Farrar and directed by Phil Setren, could perhaps best be described as a gay farce. Unusually for a farce it is slow-paced and has no real element of danger, but it builds preposterous situation upon preposterous situation in determined style, and contains one big surprise towards the end.
The plot revolves around the proprietor of a B&B near Weston-super-Mare who pretends to have a mentally ill identical twin brother in order to seduce conveniently single and sexually frustrated young men – although when rumbled in this ploy he hardly seems to bat an eyelid.
He allows a corpulent, middle-aged nutcase to undertake a training period as a new ‘houseboy’ and finds himself in competition for the favours of the aforesaid young men. A manic girl, (Nadia Kamil) arrives in search of somebody, and then almost immediately forgets about that and departs with a stranger she finds drugged out of his brain and wearing a dress. At such moments one has to put one's suspension of disbelief into overdrive, so clunkingly heavy-handed is the way in which the plot is manipulated to suit the comic purpose. There is much fun to be had, however, when the proprietor, Sandy, ingratiaties himself with, firstly, a gawky hedgehog enthusiast on his way to a brass-rubbing session (Dominic Cazenove) and then a passing RAC man in need of a little homely comfort (Mark Leeson).
The whole play would fall apart in a froth of implausibility were it not for the impeccably timed performance of James Holmes as Sandy and his twin brother Jimmy. He delivers such lines as “I’m houseproud, but I’m not anal” and “I wouldn’t normally drink anything as strong as this, but I’m celebrating my double-glazing” with a straight-faced, laconic drawl that brings a welcome touch of throwaway subtlety to the proceedings. Subtlety may sound like an odd quality to require of a farce, but Tony Bluto as the trainee houseboy gives such a bizarre, overdone performance that he appears to be trying to steal the show every time he utters a word. What this demonstrates is that high camp and low comedy can only work as a theatrical combination if a vestige of reality is maintained throughout.
This is a curious hotch-potch of an evening that tries too hard to please. At the moments when it ‘relaxes’, though, it is delightfully and refreshingly funny.