Derek Benfield's farce Bedside Manners leaves you exhausted just trying to unravel all its mayhem, muddle and misunderstanding. It's a relief, therefore, to leave the theatre and let them all work it out for themselves.
All the old clichés are there in force. But what would a good old British farce be without bedroom doors and dropped trousers, mixed doubles in hotel suites and a couple of stiletto-heeled blondes tripping around the corridors - for what? A night in bed with each other's man? Surely there's more to it than that? No, unless you count the fact that one of them enjoys a box of chocolates at the same time.
The production is designed and also lit by Mark Alexander. The set is a mirror image left to right, with the reception area in the centre and two staircases leading to two identical hotel rooms (one blue and one green). This design gives plenty of scope for guilty parties to disappear and reappear, getting up to no good, whilst we continue to see what's transpiring "behind closed doors" as it were. As a result, the performances never flag - and even overlap at times, giving faster pace to the action.
We're told in the programme - and indeed this fact is corroborated by the newspaper headlines we see on stage - that Bedside Manners is set in the present. Unbelievable - when the most erotic act portrayed is a girl pulling seductively (supposedly) on the tie of her wobbly would-be wooer (boxer-shorted no less). All such innocent harmless fun!
Tim Brooke-Taylor leads an experienced cast (who collectively keep us faintly interested in what happens next ) as the hotelkeeper whose establishment seems to comprise all of two double rooms and a small reception area, and whose main aim in life is to monitor the moral rectitudes of his paying guests. In so doing, he makes a handy backhander or six and successfully leads the play through its interminable twists and turns to its final denouement and happy-ever-after ending.
So, profoundly intellectual, it ain't. But if you're looking to pass an hour or so of mindless amusement, then Bedside Manners might keep you entertained. Whilst the bellhopping and bedhopping becomes a little too predictable and tedious, the pace never lets up. However, rather than sit back and enjoy it, I couldn't help thinking instead about how, at script stage, the playwright must have needed an Excel spreadsheet to work out the overly intricate comings and goings out.
- Annie Dawes (reviewed at Plymouth's Theatre Royal)