Forget-Me-Not Lane

Peter Nichols
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

This is a revival of Nichols' play, first produced in 1971 at the Greenwich Theatre in London. Nichols, who is 80 this year, said in a recent interview with the Independent on Sunday that his only regret in life (echoing John Betjeman in a famous TV interview) is that he didn't have enough sex, and this feeling seems to be the main preoccupation of this particular play.

In fact, a lot of Nichols' work is autobiographical: his best-known play, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1967), reflects his own experience of having a disabled child, while The National Health (1969), which became a film, was written as a result of a stay in hospital.

In Forget-Me-Not Lane we see Frank, a man in his forties, having a mid-life crisis. He reflects on his days of adolescence during the Second World War when his wife Ursula, then a sexy little schoolgirl in a bright red gymslip (I wish I'd gone to her school - mine was a dull navy blue), used to practically throw herself at him and he didn't know what to do with her. Now they are married, with children, and she no longer throws herself at him, being too tired and preoccupied with the business of running a home and a family. Poor Frank is feeling rather jaded and sorry for himself, and thinks he's missed so many opportunities in life. He blames family life itself for his malaise, and wants to break the vicious circle. What he intends to replace it with is not clear - solitude, presumably? Frank remembers the unsatisfactory relationship he witnessed between his own parents, and decides that the only thing for it is to pack his suitcase and go.

The play uses an interesting flashback technique which involves the older Frank (played by Ben Fox) narrating events. Various characters come to life in front of him: his own younger self (Dominic Hecht), his parents Charles and Amy (Mike Burnside and Elaine Claxton), his friend Ivor (Ben Lambert) and his future wife Ursula (Katie Foster-Barnes). The grown-up Ursula (Sarah Moyle), also appears from time to time, to argue with him about their life together, and to try to make him see things from her viewpoint.

Characters from the past and present appear on stage at the same time, which works well, and it's amusing when, for example, the older Frank makes eye contact with his younger self, and even talks to him. Further visual interest is provided in the person of Miss 1940 (Ruth Gibson), a kind of Marilyn Monroe on roller skates, and Mr Magic (Timothy Kightley), both of whom represent a kind of sexual fantasy world in Frank's mind.

At first it seems that Young Frank is going to turn out gay - he plays a cross-dressing game with his friend Ivor, with the help of a padded bra and makeup. Perhaps it was actually Ivor who was gay? Anyway, it soon becomes clear that Young Frank is attracted to Young Ursula, but that he's just terribly shy and awkward.

My favourite part of the show was a magical performance at the very end, by the full cast, of the title song - perhaps there should be a musical version of the play, with songs of the forties all the way through!

Reviewer: Gill Stoker

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