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Monday, 23 February 2015

Double Double (Wheathampstead)

Double Double,
Wheathampstead Dramatic Society
February 2015

You have to hand it to the Wheathampstead Players. I have no idea what it is you have to hand to them, stamina pills might not be far off the mark, but hand it to them you do. They have serious form in two-handers. The commendable Educating Rita recently gave us a pair of actors doing their own version of a Mo Farrar theatrical marathon and in Double Double Jonathan Field and Irene Morris threw their own particular hats into this difficult staging ring. I take my own hat off to them, and if I had two then both would be doffed. Not because I thought the production of this entertaining play from Eric Elice and Roger Rees was perfect, far from it in a script lacking an all consuming style, but because the two actors were pleasingly skilful and eminently watchable. And that ain’t easy when, read the cast programme, they are completely on their own. You hear about a variety of offstage characters but none are destined to appear. No light relief from a comic maid or a sinister lawyer here. Field and Morris is all you are going to get for your eight quid.
Before I get bogged down in what passes for a review let’s give you a smidgeon of the plot. It helps you know. Well heeled Phillipa James needs a man to pose as her dead husband so she can inherit a lucrative trust on what would have been the fiftieth birthday of the late and not so lamented spouse. She finds one, a dead ringer for her old man, in a wandering hobo with the look of a Russian peasant and the thick sound of haggis and whisky. Cue a bit of Pygmalion trickery and bob’s your uncle. Yes, I know, it stretched my credibility as well. Not that it matters. Underpin with the complexity of Anthony Shaeffer’s Sleuth or the sexual ambiguity of Pinter and Double Double would pay rich dividends. But the Elice and Rees play never threatens those theatrical heights, sexual play is neither gripping nor ambiguous and delicious plot twists are limited to the surprising, and pleasing, end. It was all a husband and wife insurance scam after all. And if that spoils it for any lazy folks who have yet to see it I apologise, but three night runs of an old chestnut allow such an indulgence . It was clever in its denouement, but not enough on its own to prop up a piece rich in theatrical possibilities but pretty ordinary in exposition.
In the final analysis it all comes down to the respective merits of the protagonists. After all, they didn’t write the script they merely played with the words. And here Jonathan Field as the cultured hobo Duncan McFee and Irene Morris as the pseudo rich Phillipa James did sterling jobs. Mr Field never put a foot wrong in a first class portrayal of a man seemingly out of his depth and out of his league and Miss Morris, diction as clear as always, created a woman whose motives and emotions were never truly revealed. Both actors had great fun in reprises of rehearsed shenanigans, upper class husband home from the office, and if I level a semblance of criticism at director Julie Field it is in regard to the underplaying of sexual chemistry and not persuading the admirable Miss Morris to occasionally drop her guard. I reckon I wanted a touch more vulnerability from a woman who was, as eventually revealed, playing a pretty dangerous game.
But not for the first time that is me being picky folks. You don’t get meaningless pats on the head on these blogs. In depth incisive theatrical points just flow. Or some other such rubbish. And, amongst all this rubbish, can I say that for whatever the play’s faults it was a pretty good evening. I spent all of the interval working out a variety of impossible scenarios. And my companions did the same. And we went home chatting about it and, not for the first time, saying that in Irene Morris and Jonathan Field the Wheathampstead Players have two bloody good actors. Word perfect, good pace, nicely choreographed. Two actors, double double, and oodles of stamina pills. They were both in the bar afterwards. I am not surprised. Roy Hall