The Dark Side of the Half Moon

Neil Armstrong and Brian Walsh
Customs House, South Shields
(2002)

The words "comedy thriller" are enough to make the hearts of thinking theatergoers sink. How many pot-boilers have there been in that genre? How many plays that have been neither comic nor thrilling? The genre conjures up pictures of tired productions with second-rate TV names touring around B list receiving houses, or of amateur companies on their last legs, where the ingenue will never see forty again and the director goes incandescent if anyone deviates from any of the least of the author's stage directions.

It speaks volumes for the reputation of the Customs House and of writers Neil Armstrong and Brian Walsh that I went voluntarily to see The Dark Side of the Half Moon. Even so, I confess to having had some reservations.

But I needn't have worried: The Dark Side of the Half Moon is genuinely funny and has a mystery which is intriguing and unravelled with not one but two twists in the tail, producing an ending which is both shocking and funny at the same time.

Trevor (Dennis Jobling) is landlord of the Half Moon pub and he wants to turn it into a trendy café-bar, much to the annoyance of the regulars Jesus the aging Pink Floyd fan, Harry the journalist and Tommy the allotment holder. There are huge tensions between Trevor and his brother Rob, the ex-footballer, and there's obiously something going on between Trevor and Shelagh, the cleaner. Throw in Tommy's nephew Stan, who is a few sandwiches short of a picnic, and Trevor's missing wife Maria, and you have what could be described as an explosive situation.

It's very funny, and the humour arises from the characters rather than any contrived "funny" situations, and the mystery only gradually becomes apparent. There is a subtlety which is more often than not missing from such plays.

There were very few noticeable hiccoughs on the first night: a few moments when the pace was off somewhat, but nothing that won't be cured when the company settle into their performances. But that, of course, is the problem with regional theatre at this level: two weeks' rehearsal and then straight into the first night will always create some problems.

The audience - a house of at least 90% - loved it. The Customs House has gained a firm place in the hearts of theatregoers in Tyne and Wear and they come prepared to enjoy what they see. It is a genuine community theatre - this week: the play; films in the Studio; the usual youth theatre, youth dance group, gospel choir and big band; art exhibitions; a week-long breakdancing course for kids on their half term holidays; A Level Theatre Studies students doing their thing - and the community is responding with its support.

And the play? Amateur companies will love it - but only if they're prepared to take a few risks!

Reviewer: Peter Lathan