Piste again! John Godber, who uses sports situations as Alan Ayckbourn uses dining rooms - an arena in which relationships are forged and cremated - returns after ten years to what the Hull Truck programme dyslexically calls his "Apline blockbuster."
Fetching up on an Alp, Chris and Alison (partners, though unfettered by marriage lines, she complaining of having remained untouched by human hand for many a year) and Dave and Bev (love's young dreamers much given to infantilist role play) quickly fall under the controlling wing of ski instructor Tony, while Mel, posh totty on the loose, hovers not far away. But, alas, Tony and Mel prove to be the grit in life's Vaseline for the two couples, who are collectively wooed, screwed and spewed up by the selfish singles. The resulting betrayals, recriminations and heartbreaks are bitter.
If it doesn't sound like a laugh a minute, remember this is Godber who, as writer and director, is an assured master of the thin line between pain and comedy. From the hilarious slow burn of Bev's first feeble attempt to ski to Chris's wounded railing at Alison, demanding to know whether Tony is a better lay than he, laughter engulfs the audience as much from the truth of the characters and pace of the choreography as from bullseye one-liners.
Given that this is Daniel O'Brien's fourth crack at On the Piste, it is not surprising that his understated comic delivery sits so comfortably on his character Chris. Jacqueline Naylor's Alison is the perfect foil, counterpointing his every shift in her journey from dignified disappointment to a new emancipation. And Dawn Finnerty is a delight as daffy Bev, with her subtly expressive face and sporadically angular limbs.
One can quibble about the camp and overlong sequence in which the cast doll up and mime to Abba. Similarly, a sauna scene is there simply to underscore English prudishness about the body but is negated when our supposedly liberated Austrian instructor, presumably cast for the aesthetics of his buttocks (his accent is appalling), wanders around with a towel clutched chastely to his groin.
Since he's busy re-cycling his stuff, perhaps Godber - after rugby, weightlifting, judo and skiing - might next turn his attention to the biking fraternity.
- Ian Watson (reviewed at Hull Truck Theatre)