Straight and Narrow

Jimmie Chinn
Andy Hill, Benoit Paturel & John Owen
Above the Stag Theatre

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Lewis Allcock as Bob and Todd Von Joel as Jeff Credit: PBG Studios
Carol Royle as Vera, Harriett Hare as Nona and Kerry Enright as Lois Credit: PBG Studios
Harriett Hare as Nona and Carol Royle as Vera Credit: PBG Studios
Lewis Allcock as Bob and Kerry Enright as Lois Credit: PBG Studios
Todd Von Joel as Jeff and Carol Royle as Vera Credit: PBG Studios
Damon Jeffery as Bill and Gavin Duff as Arthur Credit: PBG Studios
Lewis Allcock as Bob and Todd Von Joel as Jeff Credit: PBG Studios

Joiner Robert Swift (Lewis Allcock) and plumber Jeffrey Shotter (Todd von Joel) are partners; they run a business together designing and fitting kitchens and they are partners in life too, a long established relationship that perhaps needs refreshing. That’s why they went off on holiday to Malta leaving Bob’s sisters to keep an eye on their place and pop in to feed Butch, the cat. It was there that something went wrong.

Bob tells the story directly to the audience in a long monologue that then starts being acted out in flashback, but even before the play, begins director Mark Curry sets things firmly in period with a montage of film and television clips, commercials and computer games that set it in the eighties, when it is just possible that a gay man would be as unused to abroad and as dismissive of “fancy” food as Bob is.

Bob’s sisters Lois (Kerry Enright) and Nona (Harriett Hare) and his mother Vera (Carol Royle) are there as a welcoming party when Lois’s taxi-driver husband Bill (Damon Jeffery) brings the boys back from the airport, but the boys arrive having a big row. What’s it about? What happened on Gozo?

It take most of the play to find out what actually happened (or didn’t) but there are plenty of laughs on the way in what is mainly a study of the farce that is family with manipulative mother playing protective mother hen who hasn’t a clue that Bob is gay, supportive peacemaker sister with tame husband (though she’s expecting her fourth so he can’t be that tame) and uptight other sister whose husband Arthur (Gavin Duff) has recently left her, though he does come back.

Allcock’s Bob has an easy rapport with the audience, David Shield’s design suggests he’s a competent decorator but his paintings a disaster, however much his mother admires them—but then she doesn’t even notice their eroticism. He is happily domestic, while Von Joel’s Jeff is sweaty masculinity out jogging. Perhaps it is because Bob does most of the telling that sympathy shifts to Jeff.

Straight and Narrow had a West End run back in 1992 but it feels much older. It gets confident performances from all the cast, despite only two weeks rehearsal, but though the underlying themes are quite serious, the plotting feels contrived and the characters too stereotyped.

Carol Royle, still clutching the book for reassurance for the first couple of performances, is very funny, but it is the kind of role written for the middle-aged wife of the director of a downmarket weekly rep; a comic cliché but one that works—that’s a compliment as much as a criticism.

Writer Jimmy Chinn isn’t so successful in handling the difficulties of sustaining relationships and gay men and parenthood, but attitudes have changed a lot since he wrote this play. Perhaps it is time for a rewrite. There is a touching and sensitive story here which stays in the mind, but it is its farcical comedy and well-paced playing that makes this an audience pleaser.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton