While I watched this play I couldn’t help being reminded of a programme note in N C Hunter’s A Day By The Sea which I saw at the Finborough a couple of months ago. As I pointed out at the time, the programme mentioned that N C Hunter’s success may have had much to do with the high calibre actors that performed his plays. I was reminded of this because when I saw this play twenty years ago, the cast which included Stephen Fry, Rik Mayall, John Gordon Sinclair, Sarah Berger and John Sessions was pretty damn good and possibly the suitable for the play at the time.
I realised that the comparison with N C Hunter was probably unfair, and that the play doesn’t so much need good or even great actors, it just needs the right actors. And it isn’t all the actors, the ‘wrong’ actors in this play were arguably the actors in the comic relief roles of Nick and Peter. I began to think that it is those roles together with the role of Humphrey (a self-loathing homosexual don – played first time by Stephen Fry, who else) that really made the play something special. Otherwise, you could claim it was an underwritten romantic triangle. Reece Shearsmith, who played the literary hack, Nick, was suitably acidic but didn’t have the flamboyance and anti-heroic schoolboy charm that Rik Mayall brought to the part. I didn’t like him enough this time round, and as his character’s glasses frames got thicker, Reece Shearsmith started to make me think of Ronnie Corbett – his shortness relative to the other actors added to that feeling.
Casting Nigel Harman as the lothario lone-ranger Peter seemed to miss the point that Peter is chaotic but very lucky in keeping his infidelities secret. Harman was a convincing philanderer but too smooth for the part. John Gordon Sinclair may not have been as sexy playing Peter but he made a better muddling liar and had much more chemistry with Humphrey. I didn’t really get the strength of the attraction between Humphrey and Peter in this production although the elements are in the play.
One of the bits that I remembered most about this play (although it may have only been in the TV adaptation) was a touching speech from Stuart (was John Sessions, is Robert Portal) comparing his situation with the ‘fixed’ tom-cat who is unable to perform with cat-like agility anymore. It was missing from this production, I’m not sure why or even whether the play would have been better (or worse) for its inclusion but I felt its absence.