From ‘Hamlet’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to ‘Noises Off and ‘A Chorus of Disapproval’, the play within a play is a fantastic device for blurring fiction with reality, and David Tristram’s ‘Last Tango in Little Grimley’ is in fact the House of International Theatre’s second sojourn into that world in recent years.
But more so than with its early 2018 production of ‘Venus in Furs’, which was also directed by Jeremy Thomas-Poulsen on a circular stage with the audience facing one another, this production is practically biographical.
In the opening scene in which the entire four-person ensemble discuss the economic perils of staging a play with a big cast, and the impecunious nature of amdram theatre in general, it felt almost rude to laugh at how close to the truth this actually is.
Tinny tick, tea tick, Terminator tick
Staged in intimate surroundings that ensure the entire audience comes within a cheeky feather dusting of the action, the play starts the moment you enter the venue. Naive Joyce (Dawn Wall), in similar garb to Sarah Connor in ‘The Terminator’ original, invites you to indulge in some British tea and shortcake biscuits whilst listening to music that could best be described as tinny.
The seating is set up in a circle, facing a round table, and it feels like we’re entering an AA meeting – immediately we are made to feel like part of the play. Who are the actors, and who are really the audience?
A kettle explodes and you wonder if this is part of the special effects? Whether it is or not, the nature of the introduction already tells you there is going to be a lot of improvisation and Wall handles it like a pro, milking humour from the unfortunate events.
Sex sells! Play within a play, innit!
As the play properly begins around the aforementioned table, the audience are rapidly introduced to the Little Grimley amateur dramatics society, who are about to face eviction as their last shows have been a bit of a disaster. To win the audience back and prevent the society from being closed, they must come up with a show that spikes the ticket sales.
And something comes up alright, although in the head not the pants of the chairman/chairperson (Pejman Khorsand Jamal): an erotic-comic story about the village.
Sex sells, he reminds everyone, but will this be true in the conservative village of Little Grimley?
That scene! Benny Hill on amphetamines
The unconventional set is perfect for a play with such a small cast. It brings the audience closer to the performers – like we are all part of what is going on, both spectators and performers. The actors look us in the eye and make us feel like we’re more than just the viewer. It is things like this that grab you by surprise, and you find yourself nodding, smiling, even wanting to answer.
Thomas-Poulsen adds spice to Tristram’s play by adding a scene in which we see the performance they have been rehearsing. With the Benny Hill theme vigorously playing in the background, it’s frenetic sex farce meets French cabaret meets fast-forward on your VHS – a highlights reel of their night in tights in front of the lights, full of unexpected appearances. From the director, it is a masterstroke as it wouldn’t have been the same if we hadn’t been able to see the result of the arduous rehearsals.
Sexy scene-stealers … from ‘Come on Eileen’!
Dina Rosenmeier stole the show as Margaret last Saturday night. She perfectly nails the three Ss needed for the role as she’s sexy, snobby and spoilt. From the moment she appears in her Fuchsia high heels, we knew we were in for a treat.
Wall as Joyce brings a mix of quirkiness and shyness in an outstanding, multi-layered performance, switching from naive young girl to sexy chambermaid when needed. At all times, she is the most at ease, which is just as well as she is the most interactive with the audience.
Tom Hale, wearing fetching dungarees that looked like they had been stolen off the set of ‘Come on Eileen’, brings energy and believability to the role of the Irish set-maker Bernard and later delivers an unexpected cameo that brought the house down.
And finally, Gordon as the chair may have the most lines, but it is during his moments of physicality that he enjoys his biggest laughs. Some of his one-liners might lack sparkle or the necessary sophistication and eccentricity, but the image of him purring “Sexy” will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons, evoking chuckles every time.
Fleshed out, flesh out, flock out!
Of course, it’s no criticism of the performance, but the 1994 script does sound a bit outdated at times, with some of the lines borderline chauvinistic.
Maybe that’s why there was a distinct lack of chemistry between Bernard and Margaret, the only ‘will they, won’t they’ in the play. A few lingering moments might have served their relationship a little better, or was this simply a clash of two different eras?
For the audience, though, this was a seamless performance – quite literally as all manner of silky, sexy and slinky garments were adorned and ripped off in full view. And it’s safe to say the cast and most notably the director successfully fleshed out the comic value of this curious play.
Continuing until November 23, there’s still plenty of time to catch them (although only one is fully revealed – you’ll get that piece of smut if you attend) at the new theatre venue at Matrikel 1 right in front of the Gammel Strand Metro station.
Get ready for a side-splitting evening!