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Rattle of a Simple Man

By • West End
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"Sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-three", according to the famous Philip Larkin poem which goes some way to explaining why the lead character in Charles Dyer's Rattle of a Simple Man - originally premiered in 1962 - has managed to reach the age of 35 when the play begins without having experienced it. He was simply a year too early. But if that was really the case, we could have all gone home early, and not have had to sit through two-and-a-half hours of this pleasant but sometimes peculiar and dated play.

It's a sex comedy in which the sex is explicitly on the menu but never fulfilled, as our Manchester virgin called Percy - down in London on a football supporting jaunt - accepts an expensive bet with an unseen mate called Ginger to see whether he can go through with a date with a call girl whom he's met at a drinking club. It's not just Percy's name that gives you the nod that this is a period piece, nor the fact that a £5 note is enough to buy his encounter with the prostitute, but also his shocked reactions to even the mildest of off-colour language. (He can't even say bottom without qualification and prevarication; no wonder he can't manage to get his trousers off once all evening).

But though some of the details we learn about him - he still lives with his mother, he works in fabric research at a Cotton Mill and is a Scoutmaster - make one think that perhaps he's simply come to the wrong kind of prostitute, Dyer's play offers an otherwise convincing portrait of Percy’s self-repression and overwhelming loneliness. And Stephen Tompkinson, a skilful and truthful comic actor, finds reservoirs of tentativeness and charm in equal measure.

Michelle Collins doesn't find quite the same texture or shading to the character of the prostitute Cyrenne, though she's adept at revealing some of the damage that she, too, has suffered and from which she has retreated into creating a fantasy picture of her life. The brief second act arrival of her brother Ricard (Nick Fletcher) not only sees the real world intruding, but also raises the possibility of incest that is never fully explored.

Though it's a little perplexing to find a director of the stature of National and RSC veteran John Caird directing this mild, modest but occasionally thoughtful play, he delivers as touching and sympathetic a production of Rattle of a Simple Man as it's possible to expect.

- Mark Shenton


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