Having already enthused and amused audiences in Hampstead and the West End, this meaty comedy, if anything beefed up, will surely do the same around the UK.
The action’s confined to one bedroom – in two different times. In the 1950s, six-year-old Tony inadvertently catches his dad Louis in bed with his mistress, just as his wife is about to give birth. The skeletons that subsequently get shoved into the bedroom cupboard come to light almost 50 years later in the present day, as Tony and his estranged younger brother Reggie return to their childhood home, with their wives, for Louis’ funeral. Director Robin Lefevre seamlessly interweaves the decades, allowing the past to illuminate the present and explain deep-held antagonisms in this divided family.
Reggie’s a successful lawyer and his wife Elizabeth is a top jewellery designer – and they have designer teenage children – a high-achieving pigeon pair of twins. Tony, by contrast has always had to struggle and he and his wife Sheila have a daughter with Down’s Syndrome. But there’s much more to their rivalry and animosity than mere envy and what impresses is not the revelations in the plot, which are not hard to second guess, but the psychology behind their deep-seated effects on the brothers and their wives.
Underpinning all the complicated relationships in the play is the importance of Jewish roots and the tension between being born Jewish and converting, starting with Louis, a Jew with a wife who’s converted and a Jewish mistress …
The play’s extraordinarily, sometimes shockingly funny, with sex scenes and talk that manage to be at the same time comic and explicit. And it’s played to the hilt by a largely new cast, now boasting a felinely sexy Rula Lenska, fresh from Big Brother, as Elizabeth, alongside Alison Steadman reprising her role as deliciously loud and bosomy Sheila; she might be the outrageous Beverley of Abigail’s Party fame a few years on. But there’s an underlying tenderness in her joshing relationship with David Horovitch’s blusteringly loveable Tony that gives the play its warm heart. Coming back to familiar roles after a break, the pair inhabit them wonderfully, combining onstage rapport with fresh glee and sparkle.
Ben Porter as Lothario Louis and David Cardy as the son who’s inherited his roving eye are equally convincing in their different time periods. Sue Appleby is touching as Louis’ young wife, Bobbie, at home neither in the class nor the faith into which she’s married. And Hannah Watkins as his mistress, Bella, is not only sexy and intelligent but orgasmically funny.
- Judi Herman (reviewed at Theatre Royal Windsor)