Simon Mendes da Costa’s Losing Louis is a funny old play. It’s funny in the sense that it has some searing and vulgar lines, generally well delivered, but also in the sense that it crams in more emotional and historical baggage than is good for it. Sons and wives attending dad’s funeral enter the marital bedroom set with much more than an overnight bag and toothbrush. And that dad, the concupiscent Louis, interleaves the here and now with distant depictions of his inconsiderate bonking and its consequences. It was almost two plays. In fact it was. In the yesterday of the 1950’s our Louis and his wife and mistress serve up a bleak picture of death and possession. Louis spawns children from both but only the mistress’s survives. Fast forward and the question is raised, at least in the audience’s mind, as to whether the symbolic baby in the cot is the younger son. I can’t be bothered to answer the question because it would be both obvious and tedious. And that is the weakness of a play which, literally, dramatises that emotional baggage. The present was much more fun. The past bogged it down. Bit like life really.
But on the basis that you can’t blame the jockey for the horse, and I should know, it is only fair to judge Wheathampstead’s latest production on how they served it all up. And here I divide in to two camps. In acting terms it was pretty good. The company are blessed in having a number of fine actresses and Sarah Brindley and Irene Morris are two of the best of them. Ms Brindley was the tartish Sheila with a bizarre interest in astronomy and Einstein, and Ms Morris the more upmarket Elizabeth with a penchant for the bizarre placing of wedding rings. In dress and manner they combined and clashed beautifully. With husbands Tony (Robin Langer) and Reggie (Steve Leadbetter) constantly warring, usually over flashy or frumpy cars, we were firmly in Ayckbourn country. Not that dear old Alan ever did circumcision, as far as I know. The quartet gelled to great effect in the opening to act two, the rainy recriminations of a disastrous funeral, and this vicious joke filled scene was the theatrical cream of the evening. Mr Langer’s dig at his lawyer brother was so splendidly misdirected it was almost worth the entrance money on its own. We got two laughs for the price of one. Given the play’s strong Jewish theme, it seems appropriate.
But as I said earlier, you are allowed to repeat yourself on a blog, we also got two plays and the eternal triangle from the past constantly slowed the action. The younger acting set did a fair job, Ryan Goodland was a pleasing Louis and Julie O’Shea a promising mistress, but it was all a bit bleak. And much as I admire Sara Payne (an excellent Maureen in Time of my Life) her disturbed and complex wife marginally suffered from a comic voice in a serious portrayal. None of this should have mattered because, overall, it was a pretty strong septet of actors. But director Joe Maher didn’t move them with imagination, even the best looked statically awkward at times, and repetitive scene changers tested the most patient watcher. Mr da Costa’s play is not easy to serve up as a coherent whole and this production did not seriously try. I blame the 1950’s radio. It made more exits and entrances than any actor in a bedroom farce. Searing jokes, snappily delivered, can’t compete with that. Roy Hall