Friday, February 08, 2013


Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

Kay Mellor's gentle bittersweet comedy had a life on the stage long before the BBC and Billie Piper got their hands on it.

Cut to the Chase have come up with a beautifully staged revival. Betty's loft is centre stage, with an old H aerial up top, next to a huge Sky dish. It's her only son's wedding day, but she's rummaging about, chattering to herself, and us, as she unpacks her memories. She's joined by bridegroom Mark, in a slightly tight Moss Bros outfit, frustrated that his mum is going to miss the wedding she disapproves of. Bizarrely, he encourages her to try on a ball gown from the old Locarno days.

From then on things get even more unlikely. If you're new to the story, and want the whole blithe-spirited high jinks to come as a surprise, you might want to look away now.

Matt Monro on the Dansette, the glitter ball spinning, and Craze, a bit of fling from Betty's younger days, just before her pregnancy, materialises in the attic. The second act sees Donald [Betty's husband], till now just a voice from downstairs, join his son amongst the lumber, for some home truths and the most compelling dramatic exchanges in this patchy play. Betty herself is nowhere to be seen, but the skylight is open, and, in a clever coup, the rooftop revolves to reveal her behind the dish. After some very effective three-way, then four-way, confrontations we have a deus ex machina, a tug-of-love and a slightly awkward ending.

Bob Carlton's production uses the excellent set [Rodney Ford] to great effect, and manages the set-pieces very skilfully. Marji Campi makes a believable wife and mother; we empathise with her whilst understanding the frustration Mark [Sam Pay] and Donald [James Earl Adair] both feel. Mark Needham has the tough task of inhabiting the ghost, the skeleton in the closet – he makes him a down-to-earth lover, cocky and a little reluctant in his pivotal role. Too casually dressed for the ballroom, though, and Mellor loses some depth by making him a "real" spirit, and not an enigmatic trick of the mind, the embodiment of half a lifetime of regret.

It's an evening of humour, emotion, and a thoughtful reflection on love, loss and life's bitter disappointments. As the production plays in, Craze will be more sure-footed on the roof, Betty will be more comfortable in her character, and the crucial hot-air balloon will be better behaved.

production photo by Nobby Clark

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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