"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.