plays like A Resounding Tinkle and One Way Pendulum, N.F. Simpson was
part of the British theatre's very brief flirtation with the Absurd in
the late 1950s. A brand new play by the 91-year-old writer is thus a
bit of a surprise as well as a cause for excitement.
So Then Yes
provides evidence that Simpson has not lost his skewed sense of humour
or of reality, though it is perhaps not altogether successful as a
play, sometimes seeming more a random collection of comic bits and
pieces out of the playwright's notebooks.
centre is an ageing writer, evidently of no particular talent,
attempting to dictate his memoirs to a secretary, only to be constantly
interrupted by neighbours, staff and other visitors to the old folks'
home where he lives.
interruptions and diversions is a self-contained gag, sometimes no more
than a single line, sometimes an extended scene, and many of them are
very funny. But they come in no particular order and with no forward
movement, and so this sometimes feels more like a themeless sketch show
- the ghost of Monty Python is all-but-visible - than any kind of
is one hint
that it all has a point, as the play stops dead near the end for the
lecture of a visiting speaker, whose subject appears to be the total
uselessness of reason and rationality in coping with life. But one of
the few weaknesses in Simon Usher's direction here is that he has actor
Steven Beard read the lecture so blandly that the only joke that comes
through is how long and boring it is.
the pleasures to
be found in this production are not in the whole but in the parts - in
sidesteps, digressions and throwaway gags about why Benjamin Franklin
wasn't the first US President, why there were no walruses in Eden, the
prospect of a fatwa from the Archbishop of Canterbury, nude mud
wrestling as an Olympic event, Marx's dying words, Sartre's teeth, St.
Francis's donkey, poetry-reading robots and the impracticality of
handcuffing everyone in the world.
them as they go by, and don't worry about tying them together, and
you'll get an evening's worth of laughs.
plays the central character with an amiable vagueness that may
sometimes be the actor's trouble remembering lines, while everyone else
doubles and redoubles roles, Valerie Gogan frequently stealing scenes
as the mainly silent but visibly reacting secretary.
Despite the reservation mentioned above, I salute director Simon Usher for manoeuvring them all so successfully around Jermyn Street's postage stamp sized stage.
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- If So Then Yes - Jermyn Street 2010