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Funny Peculiar (tour – Westcliff, Palace Theatre)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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When the late Mike Stott’s breakthrough play was first staged in 1975 it sat plump in the middle of a by-then-well established tradition of drama which did not so much break the mould as forge it into an entirely new species. Working-class comedy for its own audience, but presented with a different sort of built-in irony.

Bob Tomson’s production looks slightly surreal, thanks to Simon Scullion’s fractured location set. If you haven’t seen Funny Peculiar before, it’s the story of a corner-shop proprietor in search if free love (that marvellous pie-in-the-sky promised by erotic magazines but so difficult to achieve when you’ve a wife – who isn’t interested – a new baby, regular customers and interfering neighbours of the twitching curtain variety).

The performances are very good, notably those of Craig Gazey as our frustrated hero Trevor, Vicky Entwistle as Ena Sharples clone Mrs Baldry and Steven Blakesley as her not-quite-all-there son Stanley. At the performance I saw, Claire Louise Amias took over the part of Trevor’s wife Irene from Suzanne Shaw and made it a well-detailed study of a woman doing her best in trying circumstances. What’s more, her hair-loosened liberation was entirely credible.

It’s still an interesting play, if perhaps one from that strange no-man’s-land between contemporary and historic. While we’re watching the stage, the action whirls us along and we accept what is happening and what is being said – not necessarily the same things at the one time. Farce, of course, has to have bite as well as froth. This production perhaps doesn’t quite achieve the right balance all the time.


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