The Lying Kind

Bournemouth Little Theatre  Bournemouth Little Theatre, Bournemouth JJ 24 October 2023


This play by Anthony Neilson is often referred to as a black farce. I was certainly in the mood for a hard-hitting comedy on a wet Tuesday evening in October in the cosy environment of Bournemouth Little Theatre.

Two decent and well-meaning police constables, Blunt and Gobble, arrive at the house of an elderly couple on Christmas Eve to give them some very bad news. Neither of them has the desire or constitution for this task and as they bumble along from misunderstanding and mistake to misunderstanding and mistake, things get ever more confusing and chaotic with each new person with whom they haphazardly engage!

The play covers topics ranging from death to paedophilia, affairs, cross dressing, and dementia! In his apparently relentless determination not to omit any emotive subject (and make a point about it), Anthony Neilson went too far. The arc of the story was detrimentally affected and the cast consequently had too much to do. I can imagine that some audience members would find some of the content unsettling. My partner for the evening certainly did. I had hoped for a Joe Orton-esque belly laughs, but this material did not provide that.

The cast was excellent. Not a weak link among them. The play is held together by the erstwhile Blunt and Gobble, ably played by Simon Meredith and James Riley in an Abbot and Costelloe double act. They were fun and sympathetically played characters. Simon was a little quiet at times and should up the volume.

Accepting that this was the first night, at times for the whole cast, but especially Blunt and Gobble, the pace and cue bites were lacking, particularly in the first scene of Act 1. To deal with difficult subjects in a comedy in an effective way, farce is required and farce requires speed and accuracy and spot on comic timing. I am sure that this will tighten up during the run.

Gronya, the psychopathic paedophile hunter was nicely played by Belinda Harward. She was quite scary and menacing. Tim Fearon was superb as Balthasar in a perfectly understated performance; the scene where he explains the misfortunes that befell his wife’s family was a highlight. Garson, Balthasar’s wife, is a very difficult part having to float in and out of dementia and was very well handled by Joanna Owen, though the age acting slipped a little in Act 2. Stuart Glossop was lovely as Reverend Shandly and his comatose acting is worthy of a particular mention. Finally, Marianne Chabin was just right as the spoilt brat Carol.

It was well directed by Rachael de Courcy Beamish and it was nice to see her appear in a cameo at the end. Action was a little static at times and despite the small stage I would have liked to have seen better use of it, especially to avoid the straight line acting that developed on occasion.

I always marvel at the sets that the backstage team rustle up at BLT. This set was great, but, fully understanding the logistical difficulties, it would be good to make the front door flat sturdier to avoid the wobbles that arose. Costumes were generally appropriate. However, the helmets of Blunt and Gobble were not right and I found them distracting. Whilst I appreciate the role of the hats in Act 2, I think peaked hats would have worked better (and probably would have been funnier for the Act 2 hat shenanigans) and the helmets should have been taken off on entering the house! It looked odd to keep the helmets on indoors especially when the jackets were subsequently removed. It would have been nice to see proper shiny black shoes worn by the policemen too.

It was a fun evening enjoyed by the audience. Black yes but farce no. Despite my reservations about the play itself, I am sure that the cast will increasingly maximise the comedy as the run progresses. The play runs for the rest of this week with the final night on Saturday 28th October.