|Jay Hash, Annie Trevisan, and Will Futterman|
By Tina Arth
I first saw Twilight’s current production, No Sex Please, We’re British, at the Strand Theatre in London back in 1975, about four years after its 1971 debut. I pretty much hated it, and have nursed a flickering flame of contempt for the show ever since. My dismay when I learned that Twilight Theater Company was doing the show was eclipsed only by my surprise at last Friday’s opening when I found myself happily laughing (along with the rest of the audience) at this utterly ridiculous farce.
Playwrights Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot’s absurd tale takes a cheery look at the hypocrisy of late 1960s – early 1970s sexual strictures – in particular, with respect to pornography (which was broadly defined, widely illegal, and definitely deemed unacceptable by middle class Brits still recovering from the Victorian era). Newlyweds Peter and Frances Hunter have just moved into their new flat, located in Windsor above the bank where Peter is assistant manager. Frances has ordered what she thinks is glassware from the Scandinavian Import Company, hoping to sell it from the flat to earn an extra pound or two. When the boxes arrive, she finds that they have actually sent an assortment of pornographic pictures. With Peter’s widowed mother Eleanor on the way for her first visit, the couple is desperate to get rid of the offending photos a.s.a.p., and they embark (with the reluctant assistance of Peter’s co-worker, Brian Runnicles) on a series of ill-fated schemes – flushing them down the toilet, grinding them up in the garbage disposal, sinking them in the Thames – none successful. Frances compounds the problem by erroneously mailing a bank customer’s check to the Scandinavian Import Company, which Peter is of course frantic to retrieve. Eleanor arrives, followed by the smitten bank manager, Leslie Bromhead, a visiting bank inspector, a local police superintendent, and more porn (this time, videos). With the classic farce surplus of doors (front door, kitchen, den, bathroom, bedroom, spare room, and upstairs) the cast manage to miss each other at all of the key moments, even after the solicitous Scandinavian firm sends over two enthusiastic hookers to ensure that the customer is well and truly satisfied. In true farce fashion, things work out OK, but with a bit of a twist.
I spent some quality time figuring out why I so thoroughly enjoyed a show that I had previously scorned, and came up with three fundamental reasons: venue, run of show, and cast. “Venue” is obvious - I like my theater up close and personal, I want to see the actors act, and there’s not much comparison between the 1000+ seats in the Strand and the intimacy of Twilight’s tiny theater. “Run of show” is reflected in the tradeoff between the letter perfect, but often lifeless, offerings of performers in year 4 of a 10-year run (spare me a farce in the hands of bored actors!) and the goofy, if occasionally bumbling, enthusiasm of local theater heroes at the beginning of a three-week run. Finally, there’s cast – not that Twilight draws better actors than London’s professional stages (and certainly the Brits had flawless accents) – but the right people on a small stage for a limited run generates such enthusiasm that the audience just cannot resist joining in the fun.
While the cast is solid, and everybody gets a share of the laughs, it is Jay Hash as Brian Runnicles who absolutely steals the show. He has great comic timing, shifts facial expressions seamlessly from worried to downright frantic, and tumbles about the stage with the dexterity of a disorderly baboon as he desperately tries to hide from his boss and the police. Lesley Mansfield and Maddy Gourlay, as the two hookers, give Hash some serious competition – and kudos to the costumer who found just the right mechanical tassels for Mansfield’s bra!
Veteran actors Gina George and Philip Giesy (as Eleanor and Leslie) provide a nice contrast to the frantic shenanigans of the younger set – always calm, just slightly staid, but with a light in their eyes and enough double entendre to let the audience know where to look for the real hanky-panky. Christopher Massey’s pajama-clad, heavily-drugged Mr. Needham is impressively upright, then impressively loose-limbed as his sleeping pills kick in, and Jeff Giberson’s slightly mush-mouthed Irish cop provides a nice combination of rigidity and idiocy. To the extent that there are straight men in the show, they are Will Futterman and Annie Trevisan (as hapless newlyweds Peter and Frances), but both actors get plenty of chances to dance on the edge of hysteria, and their few attempts at romance are great – reminiscent of comparably ill-starred moments in Barefoot in the Park.
As befits farce, there is an enormous amount of running about, and director Sarah Nolte Fuller has done a fine job of creating the illusion of chaos while maintaining absolute control over waves of physical comedy – I imagine that during rehearsal she must have felt very much like a traffic cop at rush hour. The result – a really silly, really funny show that inspires laughter, hoots, guffaws, even the occasional cheer from an appreciative audience.