My introduction to regular theatre-going – and the beginning of my life-long love of the stage – started when my school friends and I, at the age of about 13, were regularly taken by our English and Drama teacher to see the repertory company that was based at the old Palace Court Theatre in Bournemouth. In the fullness of time rep sadly went out of fashion but thankfully it is back, as indeed is this company after a successful summer season in 2016.
Neil Simon’s 1960s comedy is the second of their three plays this year. It centres round brothers Alan and Buddy Baker, who to the despair of their parents are far more interested in having a good time than they are in working at the family business – making plastic fruit. Oh, and let’s not forget a non-existent film producer and several girlfriends, both seen and unseen….
The time period was clearly set well before the curtain went up by the numbers playing over the speakers, not least the Tornadoes’ 1962 hit, ‘Telstar’. However, I would agree with my colleague’s comment in his review of last week’s play that the set is probably the least effective element of the production, as in this case it barely passes muster as a bachelor pad in 1960s New York.
I am assuming that the company has followed the old rep tradition of performing one play while rehearsing another and learning lines for a third, all of which sounds like a nightmare and probably goes some way to explaining several awkward silences that occurred during this play’s first night, not to mention the knock on the door when there was no-one actually there, something that seemed to throw the actors completely.
Those awkward silences got things off to a rather hesitant start with Al Wadland, as older brother Alan, seeming quite uncomfortable for the first half hour or so and slowing the pace somewhat. In contrast, Laurent Zhubi (Buddy) burst in with a high level of energy and maintained it for the entire evening.
However, the hesitancy passed and the humour of Neil Simon’s script really came to the fore, especially with the arrival of the boys’ parents, the totally neurotic Mrs Baker (Barbara Dryhurst) and her histrionic husband Harry (Mark Spalding), with both actors giving what almost amounted to a master-class in character acting.
There are excellent characterisations, too, from Cecily Nash as Alan’s feisty girlfriend, Connie Drayton, and from Jessica Jane as dippy would-be actress Peggy Evans.
Come Blow Your Horn continues each evening except Sunday until 15 August and is followed by N J Crisp’s Dangerous Obsession from 17 to 22 August.