Holiday Romance

Frank Saunders
Golden Ticket Productions
Etcetera Theatre
(2009)

Publicity image

Tabloid journalist Daniel, the protagonist of Frank Saunders' new romp-com, wants to secure two things at the Cannes Film Festival: some action for his 'love spuds' and a money-spinning scoop, preferably at the same time.

With its superficiality, crudity, and innuendo fixation this is Carry on Cannes meets Only Fools and Horses. Saunders' tone is jazzy-toilet; at moments it is too much, at others just divine. As Daniel seeks a celebrity scandal - instigating an unlikely romance between film star Jessica Chase and straight-laced tourist Chris to do so - the jaunty and witty rhythm of the smut and smear is absorbing. By the end we don't blink, only laugh, when Daniel urges Chris to get 'nuts deep in guts.'

Saunders has done something rare: committed utterly to sex-gags and silliness. The result is a likable and unpretentious short play. He is aided massively by the acting and direction. Without such a skilled cast and crew, the unerring tongue-in-cheek (not to mention other places) pitch may have misfired.

Alex Tilouche, as Daniel, is all cockney gumption and virulence. He chugs rum, spies bum and, by hook or by crook, gets his work just about done. Ginnie Watson - stewardess, French waitress, intemperate London editor - is theatrical elastic. As Bridgette of Bordeaux she whispers the hors d'oeuvres in a hyper-French accent that could sell cars and melt chocolate at the same time; as the sacked personal assistant to actress Miss Chase she is a whiny geek with zero acumen; as a polished cabin-crew chick she has the enforced plasticity of that profession spot on.

Racky Plews' direction is choice and economical - scene changes are swift and signifiers of place are kept simple - cocktail glass for Cannes, umbrella and short temper for London. Simple rearrangements of chairs convey a restaurant, poolside terrace and airport. These small victories are all the more impressive given that cast and crew had just seven hours to rehearse in Etcetera's tight black-box space. This is not West-end scale or budget, but the professionalism is no less evident.

Knowingly, the play has little depth. The characters are rendered with broad brush-strokes that befit and abet the humour: the journalist is cock-sure, the actress a diva, the tourist up-tight and the French waitress coquettish and hungry for baguette. There is little irony or deconstruction at work: stereotypes are enjoyed rather than satirized; the women, notably, are sketched as desperate, neurotic and subordinate. The humour is heavy, but it's not always healthy.

The play's action hangs loosely around questions of fidelity and morality, but refrains from developing a nuanced position or critique. It is not a fault that this Holiday Romance is without an interior (they rarely are), yet if the play were to be developed - which hopefully it will - a reduction in the visceral and an extension in the cerebral (the seeds are there) might be a safe course.

Until 3rd May

Reviewer: Ben Aitken