Simon Mendes da Costa
The opening play at Hampstead in 2005 is a situation comedy that takes as its subject-matter the Jewish family, sex and death.
It is set in the home of Louis with two different time lines, one in the 1950s and the other up to date. In this way, it brings to mind Richard Bean's Royal Court hit of last year, Honeymoon Suite. Director Robin Lefevre manages the interaction between periods with the skill of a farceur.
The comedy takes place in a single large bedroom in the house that Jason Durr's Louis shares with his pregnant wife Bobbie (Emma Cuniffe), but also their pretty young friend Bella, played by Anita Briem.
Solicitor Louis is a bit of a rascal and soon enough, has not only his wife, an adoptive Jew, but also the real thing, his legal protégé Bella, pregnant.
Moving on a generation, we see the offspring, two boys who have grown into middle-age and are attending dad's funeral. David Horovitch plays loser Tony while Brian Protheroe is the incredibly successful Reggie, a Ferrari freak, apparently adopted after the death of his parents in a car-crash.
These two bring with them wives who, like their husbands, are chalk and cheese. Alison Steadman is extremely good as Tony's dreadful but good-hearted wife Sheila, an older carbon-copy of Beverly in Abigail's Party, a part created by Miss Steadman on the same stage.
Lynda Bellingham is the apparently cultured Elizabeth whose smart clothes contrast with the Sheila's little black number, a dress that even she describes as "tarty". However, Elizabeth has her own secrets connected to a missing wedding ring and an embarrassingly sensitive body piercing.
Simon Mendes da Costa's greatest strength is in telling jokes, many of them funny. Indeed, on occasion the plot goes on hold while he allows the characters to crack a few more.
The storyline does not often show great originality and hinges on the audience's ability or otherwise to guess the big family secret. Losing Louis can be funny and on occasion seeks to be shocking, although it rarely succeeds. It is the kind of comedy that divides audiences between those who will be rapturously delighted and others who will desperately struggle to see the point.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher