Ah, romantic comedy. On page, on screen, on stage. Where would we be without it? I suppose that it all depends on your personal definition of romance and of comedy, and I'm not quite certain that Bernard Slade's is mine.
This Broadway and West End hit was written in the 1970s, which in a daft sort of way was still an age of innocence. The core of the action is a writing partnership, one of those oddball collaborations which can - apparently against the odds - give us some of our favourite theatrical memories. They produced some of the best dramas and screenplays of the Thirties after all.
The set created by Norman Coates is lavish, a New York loft apartment reeking of success and interior design touches. It also suggests the awkwardness of a working environment somehow bolted onto one primarily intended for living in and showing off.
Successful writer Jason Carmichael is a gift of a part and one which Tom Conti revels in, perhaps a little too much and too obviously at that. He did after all play it in the first London production and is the director for this staging. Kate Atkinson makes Phoebe Craddock - country teacher with a gift for words - into a full-blown three-dimensional person rising splendidly to the challenge of her big second-act scene. She also manages the transition from awkward schoolmarm wearing clothes more appropriate for a teenager to the Givenchy-clad butterfly with steel antennae.
The only other rounded character is Blanche Dailey, Jason's agent and wise confidante. Eleanor David gives her a quietly low-key authority and an attractive suggestion of simultaneous involvement and disengagement. Neither of the spouses - Elizabeth Payne as Allison St James and Michael Fitzpatrick as Leo Janowitz - can make much of their parts. Not the actors' fault; it's just that they're not much more than plot devices and the real hurts which both characters must surely be suffering over the fourteen years covered by the story aren't even suggested, let alone presented in the dialogue.
It is, after all, as the title tells us, a romantic comedy. The comedy comes in a whole cornucopia of one-liners which certainly get their laughs. Synonyms for romance can come in four-letter words but "real" and "life" aren't among them. It's only fair to say that the Cambridge audience loved it. Escapism, perhaps?
- Anne Morley-Priestman