Watch It, Sailor

Philip King and Falkland L Cary
Theatre by the Lake
Theatre by the Lake

L to R Laura Darrall (Daphne Pink), Helen Macfarlane (Shirley Hornett), Heather Phoenix (Emma Hornett) Elizabeth Marsh (Mrs Lack) Credit: Keith Pattison
Helen Macfarlane (Shirley Hornett), Oliver Mott (Albert Tufnell, A.B.) Credit: Keith Pattison

For his main house summer comedy, outgoing artistic director Ian Forrest has directed King and Cary's sequel to their slightly more well-known Sailor Beware, which he directed in Keswick in 2004.

It features the same cast of characters as the earlier play and is set on the same day, after Able Seaman Albert Tuffnell has pretended to jilt Shirley Hornett at the altar in order to teach her domineering mother Emma a lesson.

This play begins with the wedding back on, until a mysterious telegram arrives for Albert which Emma opens in his absence. It is from Lieutenant Commander Hardcastle, Albert's commanding officer, telling him there are legal reasons why he can't marry. Of course Emma jumps to conclusions and doesn't wait for explanations—Albert has no idea what it is all about, but she doesn't believe him.

The explanation, when it finally arrives, doesn't seem a convincing reason to hold up the wedding even in 1955. In fact, very little of the plot makes much sense, with events and arguments contrived solely to keep the story going for a bit longer instead of taking the obvious route to solving everything.

The script is, frankly, awful. It's far too long and wordy and just not very funny. The attitudes are so out-of-date that where there might have been laughs in 1960 at the shock of, for instance, a young couple considering going to Blackpool together before they are married, today it is hard to see that there is a joke there at all.

The characters are all comic clichés that also seem from another age. Henry (Peter Rylands) and Emma (Heather Phoenix) are the nagging wife and put-upon husband of the Victorian seaside postcard. Thomas Richardson does his best to avoid being the stage Scotsman as Carnoustie Bligh, but it's inherent in the lines. Helen Macfarlane is the weepy bride Shirley, and Elizabeth Marsh the stage comedy old person with pinched face, hunched shoulders and flailing arms.

The most believable and sympathetic characters come from Oliver Mott as Albert, Laura Darrall as Shirley's cousin Daphne and Maggie Tagney as Henry's put-upon, dizzy sister Edie, plus there is a nice cameo from Kieran Buckeridge as the commanding officer.

Forrest's direction does not manage to overcome the creaking slowness of the wordy plot's development—perhaps playing everything at double speed would have helped a bit—and the added physical comedy routines look grafted on as an afterthought.

While it is Theatre by the Lake's policy to put popular entertainment on its main stage, this play has nothing really to offer a modern audience, even of families and holidaymakers and parties of pensioners.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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