Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Therry Theatre’s production
of Bedside Manners, a classic British bedroom farce replete with indecent
innuendos and dissolute double-entendres by English playwright Derek Benfield.
A play about essentially one thing, with married couples deliberately deceiving
their spouses in order to fornicate in a palpably poky and purportedly démodé
hotel seemed subject matter riskily risqué for Therry. However, debauchery degenerates
before being properly consummate, and the salacious subject matter becomes
secondary to good-natured fun and ample humour.
Bedside Manners begins routinely, in more sense than one,
with Roger (Steve Bills), in the hotel’s green bedroom, and Geoff (Patrick
Clements), in the blue bedroom, anxiously awaiting the arrival of their
respective inamorata, both being unsure what to do with themselves in these
novel circumstances so fretfully fussing over their appearances, hygiene, and habiliments.
Roger decides to order some champagne in anticipation of his lover’s arrival,
so, finding his room’s telephone to be out of order, goes downstairs in search
of the hotel porter, Ferris (David Sinclair), who’s actually just there looking
after the joint which belongs to his sister. At this point, the play kicks into
gear and it’s laughs from here to the end, in large measure due to solid comedic
performances and a standout from Sinclair.
Sinclair’s Ferris is camp comedic gold. He relishes every funny
moment, his twinkling Cheshire smile and waggish wit a faultless cornerstone facet
largely responsible for the establishment of the jocund audience atmosphere on
opening night. An indefatigable good-natured sprite who does all he can to help
man, wife, and lover, with some pecuniary encouragement when needed, and remembers
to delight in the absurd difficulties facing the attempting adulterers at every
turn, encouraging we prurient patrons to do the same. Sinclair’s is a bravura
comic performance, not to be missed by the chuckle enthusiast.
This was a case of good casting, for all the performances in
Bedside Manners were of golden comedic quality. Bills played Roger with dignity
and restraint; almost the straight man in an increasingly wonky situation.
Bills has excellent comedic timing and diction and is well-met with an equally
upright and well-spoken performance given by Leah Lowe, who played Roger’s
lover, Sally. Sally seems to be more dignified and authoritative than others
who’d engage in such irresolute behaviour as these two intend, but her
confident guard lets down as she plies herself with hotel gin and descends into
a crapulous concupiscence. Lowe’s drunk is delightfully impetuous and youthful,
recalling memories of the first time you saw your best friend get sloshed and
make a giggling mess of themselves. She is at her best once she lets her
Clements’ Geoff is particularly nervous, his whole body
lurching at each of uncountably many surprises. Clements’ is a guileless and
physically tireless performance, perfectly counterbalancing the more upright
pair in the green room across the way. Rose Harvey plays Geoff’s lover, Helen, a
gormless, furtive leman, insistent on keeping her comically large dark sunglasses
on to avoid detection throughout most of the play. Fortunately, Harvey manages
to emote convincingly, notwithstanding the limited access to her soul’s
windows, so we don’t fail to find her funny. She is well cast as Geoff’s lover,
chosen to inhabit the more maladroit and gauche green side of the hotel.
Of course, neither pair sticks to their side of the hotel for
long, and when they finally meet in the middle is where the wheels fall off,
the dam breaks, and out spills the greatest scenes of farcical humour in the play.
Special mention must be made of the wonderful set designed
by Gary Anderson. It consists of the hotel’s interior, a blue room to stage
right and a green to stage left and raised a level above the ground floor where
we find the reception desk, a vestibule, and some armchairs for hotel patrons
to use while enjoying a drink from the rolling-bar across the stage. The decision
by the director, Jude Hines, to keep the second floor only ‘half a floor’ above
reception was a propitious one, for it allowed us easily to follow the
characters into and out of their respective rooms without having to crane our
necks to see them in the way one does when sat in the front row of an IMAX movie
Hines’ direction was delectably pacy thanks to a much-welcomed
decision not to take the physical gags too far. Often in directing a farce people become too focused on adding in gags, resulting in unnecessary physical comedy;
a killer of rhythm and pace. Hines’ light touch allows Benfield’s writing to
shine and good performances to reign, so that there’s never a lull or moment of
sudden staccato to jeopardise a jocose evening.
Perhaps the script could be trimmed by a few minutes and the
action brought forward, but that’s the only criticism of Bedside Manners,
itself. This production is consummately directed by Jude Hines, and very well
cast and acted by this local quintet. To tell more of the story would spoil surprises
and depreciate big laughs, so you’d better go and find out what happens for