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Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune (Minerva Theatre, Chichester)

'Beautifully written and served well by the cast'

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Neil Stuke and Dervla Kirwan
© Manuel Harlan

This is a play that starts with a bang - or at least the loudest orgasm since Meg Ryan shocked her fellow diners in a New York eating hole.

New York is in fact the unacknowledged third player in McNally's two-hander, the city playing its own part in Frankie and Johnny's burgeoning romance, as Frankie talks wistfully of her nights watching the neighbourhood dramas play out.

Made famous by the film version starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, the original play is a much more stripped-down affair, with just Dervla Kirwan's Frankie and Neil Stuke's Johnny on stage.

It works well without the distractions of the supporting characters and outside the confines of the restaurant, Stuke is especially good as the garrulous, obsessive, Shakespeare-quoting Johnny, the short-order chef who scares Kirwan's Frankie with his intensity. He manages to straddle the fine line between hopeless romanticism and single-minded obsession – it's little wonder that Frankie is so unsure about the relationship, such are the mood swings of Stuke's character.

Kirwan, perhaps not quite as compelling as Stuke, captures the fragility of a middle-aged woman, maybe looking for a last love, while scarred by one relationship and scared of another.

McNally's play is beautifully written and served well by the cast, Paulette Randall's sensitive direction and Libby Watson's crowded set, capturing the claustrophobia of New York living. There are plays a-plenty about young love but very few that capture the romances of the middle-aged. Frankie and Johnny In the Clair De Lune provides a refreshing reminder that desire doesn't die when people turn 30.