The Green Room is perfect for this four-hander and those of you lucky enough to have a ticket will be spoiled with this Russell take on the age old ripe for comedic observation attitude to getting older, regrets for the people age has made you and affluent snobbery; the need to fit in, be it committees, badminton or collective thinking, and yet somehow wanting to be above all that too; or escape it entirely by building a Shawshank-esque tunnel underneath the kitchen floor.
Compared to other works, notably Shirley Valentine and Blood Brothers, this Russell offering is more akin to farce, but a wordy farce: no physical mistaken identity, slamming of doors, hiding in cupboards or increasing hysteria, the writing itself doing all that and more; indeed it reverses the usual farce play trend of a slow burning beginning moving through ever increasing hyper-emotion with a sharp initial onslaught and some kind of peaceful resolution at the end. This play is all but sold out for the run, so “no spoilers” keeps this review a little tight on story revelation, except to say four neighbours/friends in a Phase Two development somewhere up North experience life affirming (or not) changes in attitude during a dinner party in the middle 1980s.
Pat and Dave Francis’ interpretation brims with scenic colour against which the drab lives of the four characters are set. Lighting, production and stage design/props by Chris Moses, Chris Lambert, Heather Witham and Tristan Harris are exceptional, down to scratching records, a box ‘80s telephone complete with aerial, smoking food from an off stage kitchen, brash Tupperware and a very clever ‘wedding day’ photograph. A temperamental reproduction Queen Anne drawer is beautifully central to the methodical and detailed direction, (the physical embodiment of hidden feelings/stuff), and the Green Room has been turned on its axis to accommodate a broader canvas, together with the inventive use of a corner window used to harangue the world in general.
And harangue Alex Rous does as Dennis Cain, perfectly encompassing the frustration of regret of a life once lived portrayed in changing taste of music and a past embodied back-pack; a Joni Mitchell song features particularly ominously amongst perceived more main stream work, further emphasising Dennis’ lack of team commitment to the Phase Two image. Matching him as his wife, Pauline, Kathryn Thomas is punchy and protective, her initial scenes with Dennis emoting a love that has grown comfortable with all that comfortableness bringing in nagging, joking, cheek and frustration.
Marie Draper purrs her way through the role of Jane Fuller, fully savouring her put-downs and confident air more than justifying her high-brow reputation with Kevin Cornmell, wonderfully warm and ebullient as her husband, Roger.
All four bring a sense of believability to their roles with a little too quick-fire dialogue in the first half perhaps in the attempt to pursue this, but it is not needed as the confidence in delivery was very natural and excellently controlled. Only the writing of the denouement brings an unsatisfactory conclusion as it is all over too quickly and a ‘norm’ is too easily achieved: a shame, given the high standard and energetic commitment of this talented cast and production overall. Attendees this week will be fully entertained.