ROMANCING MISS BLISSJubilant Productions
at the Headgate Theatre, Colchester
Romantic fiction – top selling literary genre, staple of the mobile library – what does it mean to you ? Rose-tinted Barbara Cartland and her team of amanuenses ? A cottage industry of prolific hacks, many of them pseudonymous men ?
These tropes, and much more, in Anne Pearson's gently amusing satire, full of word-play [dentistry puns, Austen titles] and lovely pastiche: “the heart is a strange organ”, in novels like The Heart Surgeon's Secret, The Dentist's Dilemma and To The Moon And Back. The scenes in the dentist's chair are particularly cherishable: “I'll be gentle with you,” he promises. “Open wide … you seem much more relaxed this time.”
Fliss Bliss – her real name – is persuaded to enter a competition run by Pomme d'Amour Press. Her prize: mentoring support by best-selling author Olivia de la Fontaine – not his real name. Using the indispensable manual for aspiring romantic writers, The Pathway to Passion.
Along the way there are dramatized extracts from work in progress, and guest appearances by Miss Austen in drag and assorted denizens of the local library. It's fast-moving and great fun, though the writing could sometimes be a little tighter. As Mike says to Felicity: “interesting characters and witty dialogue.”
Needless to say, romance blossoms between neophyte and old pro, and a quirky finale has them jump up from Remington and Apple in a triumphant dance routine.
This is a lovely two-hander – even the gushing compère [Helen Watson] could easily be a voice-over like publisher Veronica [Patricia Byford] – and Christine Absalom and Ben Livingstone relish every moment, with perfect comic timing and tongues just far enough into the cheek …
This rehearsed reading, directed by Ignatius Anthony and produced by Jules Easlea, is, one hopes, the last stage of development before the long-awaited tour to small venues in the region.