Burt 'n' Joyce (Harrogate)

Ron Simpson finds a play “so slight as to be almost non-existent” in Reform Theatre Company’s latest offering.

Reform Theatre Company's Burt ‘n' Joyce by Mark Whiteley follows a near sell-out four-performance run at the Studio of the company's home theatre with 16 one-night-only performances at theatres and halls, many of them in Yorkshire. There is every chance that audiences will find it a pleasant way to pass 90 minutes of stage time (plus interval), but in truth the play is so slight as to be almost non-existent.

Burt and Joyce are an elderly married couple who run a charity shop. A former temporary employee of theirs is now a pop star about to visit the next day and Burt gets very excited about the speech he is going to make (which, unaccountably, he thinks will make him famous).

Joyce wants to go to Sleaford to visit a hospitalised friend and there is much discussion of alternative methods of transport and whether Burt should take her and be denied his moment of glory. Then she finds an unexpected donation to the shop and the second half debates what they should do about it.

Of course there's more to it than that, but the other, frequently comic incidents are somehow extraneous, imported to fill a few minutes amusingly. She could drive to Sleaford if she could drive, so we have an amusing simulation of a dangerous car journey.

There are plenty of trousers in the shop, so clearly he must change his trousers and be interrupted by a customer half-naked (in fact, Whiteley tweaks it to make it a bit ruder). Unfortunately, while Burt is panicking about the possibility of being caught trouserless, there is a perfectly good changing room in his eyeline – so much for dramatic credibility.

However, there are amusing moments and the three actors are all engaging personalities and well capable of timing lines for maximum comic effect. Keith Hukin, who also directs, blusters amiably through Burt and Susan Mitchell, ageing up none too convincingly, projects a nice mix of shrewdness and simplicity.

Ryan Cerenko is entertaining in three parts, notably as Bungo the postman. If his rhyming narration and tales of the Post Office seem like more ways of filling the time pleasantly, the running gag about a member of the audience is genuinely funny – and Cerenko works it very well! For a production setting up for one night only at most places, the set (uncredited) is excellent, detailed and full of charity shop bric a brac.

– Ron Simpson