Imprisoned on ‘Phase Two of the estate’ in a world of garden gnomes, John Denver records, Tupperware and poshed-up cottage pie Dennis Cain yearns to escape.
Willy Russell’s One For The Road brings out the frustrations of a man who is dreading his 40th birthday and instead of going on holiday to Spain longs to hit the motorway of life with just his rucksack and hitchhiking thumb.
Set in the 1980s the play uses the snobbery of the lower middle classes as its weapon and it mercilessly exposes all our foibles with a clever mixture of humour and compassion.
The play is in the mould of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party, and Russell’s caustic, Scouse wit does not disappoint.
Over the course of the production the sham façade of modern living cracks, unleashing suburban angst and the dark secrets that lurk behind the venetian blinds.
Belper Players introduce two new actors to their loyal audience for this fast-paced play, which is being performed at the Strutt Centre until Saturday, and their casting was a stroke of genius by director Jane Wilton.
Mik Horvath, who has had roles in The Kite Runner at Nottingham Playhouse and Lysistrata at Derby Theatre, delivers a very strong debut performance for Belper carrying off the self-deprecating wit of mid-life crisis Dennis with much energy.
Mik’s best bit has to be the enormously funny Tupperware Man monologue. It is worth going to see just for this.
His wife Pauline is played by Alex Wrampling who has been acting from a young age and at 16 won a place at Manchester Youth Theatre.
This summer she will play Hippolyta in Derby Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall.
Her Belper debut sees her playing a blossoming Hyacinth Bucket type, intent on keeping up with the Joneses, who in this case are Roger and Jane Fuller from next door.
Alex’s body language and demeanour are perfect for an eager-to-please woman whose passion is to be accepted on the rungs of the middle class ladder. Her application of her make-up ahead of the evening’s soiree is just a small part of the action but it was extremely well executed.
Alyson Koe who plays Jane, is a stalwart of the Belper Players and she was brilliant as the armour-plated organiser who eventually reveals her softer hippy child of yester-year.
The audience was howling with laughter during a scene where she prepares to karate chop a Queen Anne (or is it MFI) bureau and uncover the hidden secrets inside.
Stephen Lee Rees is the fourth person at the dinner party playing the high-energy role of Roger the surprise philanderer.
His enthusiasm for John Denver is hilarious and his comic timing in the warm-up to the Wogan Game is side splitting.
As usual the Belper Players created a simple yet effective set in the challenging Strutt building. It was great to see genuine 1980s props – even down to the magazines on the rattan coffee table.
The play is now well over 30 years old but it has lost none of its poignancy. The must-have possessions may have changed since this pre-internet world but the class-ridden attitudes remain with us today.
The rest of the cast and backstage crew are: Sue Wood, Mrs Cain; set design, Barry Brown; sound and lighting, Richard Platt; costume and props, Ann Taylor; rehearsal prompt, Maggie Burns; box office, Joyce Towle; programme and poster design, 45 Degrees Design and Print.
This play by Willy Russell tells the story of Dennis Cain on the eve of his 40th. birthday. He is totally at odds with his current life-style feeling that he is stuck in a rut, tired of keeping up with the ‘Joneses’ and particularly sick of John Denver! He plans to escape and break free to go back to his former easy going life style of travelling etc. with just a rucksack! The set was of the lounge/dining area of his home. It was well designed by Barry Brown and together with excellent props of the era sourced by Ann Taylor it was indeed a remarkable achievement in such a small restrictive space. The play opens with his wife Pauline getting ready for the planned dinner party to celebrate his birthday with the guests being the next door neighbours and Denis’s parents. Pauline definitely wants to keep up with the Joneses and tries her best to ignore his rants whilst anxiously trying to make things perfect for the evening ahead. The part of Pauline was exquisitely portrayed by Alex Wrampling in her debut performance with the players. Mik Horvath, also in his first role with the Players, was absolutely superb as Dennis, expressively portraying the many and varied aspects of this complex character. After the arrival of their neighbours and friends Roger and Jane Fuller things take a turn for the worse for Dennis but in the ensuing conversations all is not as it should be with the relationship between Roger and Jane and tempers become even more frayed. During all this Dennis is constantly answering the telephone trying to direct his parents to his home which he does quite calmly amid the turmoil around him. Alyson Koe gives a tremendously energetic performance as the overbearing, arrogant, snooty and know-it-all Jane as does Stephen Lee Rees as Roger her exuberant husband. There was a terrific interaction between the characters and the excellent timing and comedic exploits of all four of the actors was just sublime making this a truly brilliant interpretation of this witty and cleverly scripted play. I congratulate Jane Wilton and all those involved for producing an outstanding evening of hilarious entertainment and wasn’t it nice that mum finally arrived, with hopefully Dad, not far behind!!