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'One For The Road' - By Willy Russell

Published on July 6th 2005.

A great evening at the Theatre. A witty, pithy, funny comedy. It gives an excellent portrayal of upwardly mobile misery and angst in the 70/80s.

Brendan Behan once said: “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They’re there every night, they see it done every night, they see how it should be done every night, but they can’t do it themselves.” Having got that off my chest, here goes.....

The play is absorbing. Written by Willy Russell, well known for 'Educating Rita', 'Blood Brothers' and 'Shirley Valentine', his socially observant writing in a caustic North Western (Scouse) way never disappoints.

Russell manages to depict an age many of us will remember in which middle class pretension was marked out by bold burgundies, chilled Beaujolais Nouveau, cottage pie (by some French name), Sainsbury’s, Joni Mitchell and John Denver. The play is now a little dated but in a hundred years will give a perfect picture of a time and a place. Russell is a master of the genre and more importantly an observer of the highest class putting words into his character's mouth which seem natural, normal and part of his particular landscape.

The play is nominally about Dennis and his forthcoming 40th birthday. Together with his wife Pauline and close friends Roger and Jane, they are having a dinner party to celebrate his onrushing midlife crisis that awaits. Their conversations are relevant and funny. They gradually strip bare the façade of fulfilment and satisfaction. Eventually we have major admissions and exposes in what becomes an unflagging examination of the trials and tribulations of keeping up with the Jones’.

The acting is first class. Rob Parry is an excellent Dennis expressing the frustration, ennui and fantasy nature of a non-achiever in a world of smug package holidaymakers. Dennis fantasises about the past, hates the present and sees the future offering his escape route. His wife Pauline, played very persuasively by Jessica Lloyd, conveys and adds an air of self satisfaction and primness coupled with suffocating and tedious smugness. They are a couple trapped in a mundane world living out their lives in one of Pete Seeger’s 'Little Boxes'.

Their unseen discussions about their Son and their phone conversations with Dennis’ parents are funny and well thought out. Their Guests for the evening, Jane and Roger, are well portrayed by Helen Kay and Anthony Bessick. In their own way they contribute to the all pervading image of four people trapped in a bubble of meaningless, fruitless nothingness. With the exception of Dennis, the evening starts with them all expressing enthusiasm for their limited achievements. During the course of the next couple of hours, this dissipates into a search for something more meaningful. It meanders along unexpected routes with surprising revelations. It is all the funnier for that.

In the meantime, Dennis pursues his implicit fantasy about former life coupled with a dream to change the future. Nothing turns out as expected.

Dennis is the victim of his own Tupperware nightmare. It is no surprise that when the play was first written, it was called the 'Tupperware Man' which Russell considered to be the perfect and obvious title for the play. Sadly, the American attorneys for the company had other ideas and it has gone through many different reincarnations since.

The feel for the time is one of its strengths. It captures the mood and ambience. Pauline and Dennis’ house decorations adds to that. The talented cast are given the opportunity to express themselves individually. The writing of Russell (which is always funny) adds significantly to the action which never fails to keep ones attention. It evolves fascinatingly to a rather sad but perhaps predictable ending.

I saw it on Tuesday night (5th July). The play has just opened. It had not yet been reviewed. The Oldham Coliseum was full with a knowledgeable, varied audience.

The history of the Oldham Coliseum is a rich one. It started out in 1885 and now offers accessible theatre to an ever growing audience in the Greater Manchester catchment area. Everybody concerned with the theatre deserves praise. In particular the efforts of the Chief Executive/Artistic Director Kevin Shaw who has helped to provide an outstanding theatrical experience in the region for every sector of the community.

Richard Burbage

Oldham Coliseum Theatre
Tel: 0161 624 2829

web: www.coliseum.org.uk30th June – 23rd July 2005

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