Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Dinner party cooks up the laughs

Potted wisdom: Les Jukes and Angie Martin as Julie-Anne's balmpot parents Derek and Dee Jobson


Hall Green Little Theatre


MEETING the respective parents for the first time is always a bit traumatic for any couple. Will they like me starts to give way to will I like them with age and for Justin and Julie (or Julie-Anne if you please when her parents are around) there are added worries.

Will Justin's mother stay sober enough to make it as far as the soup, for example.

Throw in a retired lapdancer landing on the balcony from the penthouse above while escaping from Rudi, her jealous psychopathic boxing promoter boyfriend and the evening certainly starts to become  . . . well, different.

Then when Rudi's gun toting minder bursts in to take her back you can take it that the chances of an “Ahhhh Bisto” cosy family dinner party have probably departed over the Docklands balcony and sunk in the storm lashed Thames below.

Julie-Ann, played gamely by Lucy Poulter in a protective boot after a bad foot injury, is, to be honest, a bit wet and has a sort of infant school teacher attitude to Justin. And you do have to wonder about someone obsessing about a missing dessert fork and wandering off into the night to borrow one . . . from who you might well ask?

Justin, played by Rob Smith, has that defeated look of a man resigned to a life of domestic hen peckery, particularly when he discovers the new celibacy-before-marriage rules suddenly announced by Julie, who, if truth be known, is a bit of an odd woman.

When you meet her parents, Derek and Dee, though it is a wonder she is not odder.

Les Jukes as Derek is superb giving us a dour, bigoted, self-opinionated,  Yorkshireman with a very slow and deliberate way of speaking as if each word is inspected and checked to ensure it is clean behind the ears before it is released into the world.

Angie Martin as Dee is a perfect foil, with manic laughter at Derek's painful attempts at jokes.

Julie-Anne (the parents are here now) reckons he is the funniest man she knows, and as she did not mean peculiar it all adds to the growing worries about her.

We also discover that Julie-Anne has two sisters that her parents never talk about, one in Canada and one in Truro, which obviously means that Derek will have to tell us why.

Let's just say it all comes down to their  . . . relationships which are not the sort of thing Derek and Dee think Yorkshire folk are used to and certainly should not get up to.

Nice of you to drop in: Justin (Rob Smith) with the leaping lapdancer Paige Petite (Kalpana Boodhoo)

Linda Neale, as Arabella, Justin's mother, has the difficult job of playing a drunk.

The secret is not to be a sober person pretending to be drunk which usually descends quickly into panto but rather imagine a drunk trying very (hic) hard to appear normal and sober which she manages to perfection putting her unsteady and well lubricated foot in it with gay abandon.

And amid this game of happy families we have lap dancer Paige, as in three, played with a mix of fear and defiance with hint of seduction by Kalpana Boodhoo. Minding her is ex-boxer Micky, played with a mildly punch drunk bewilderment and halfhearted menace by Tony O'Hagan.

The production, directed by Helen Dawson on a nice, clean open set from Mel Hulme, is a little slow to get going as Justin and Julie set the scene, telling us who is who and what is supposed to be planned - not that you can inject an awful lot of life into a couple laying a table, making soup and  preparing for a dinner party.

But once Paige drops in, literally, and the other characters start to appear the pace, and the sound level incidentally, picks up considerably accelerating to farce speed.

Seconds Out: Ex-boxer Micky (Tony O'Hagan) talks about his career with a rather merry Arabella (Linda Neale)

As with any play by Sir Alan Ayckbourn there is clever use of words  and some very funny throwaway lines which are easy to miss but this cast manage to find them all but add with some nice little touches of their own as they find the funny side at every opportunity.

Derek even manages to make the mundane very funny such as his laboured description of his three garden centres, all in t'south Yorkshire, a tale so laced in boredom it should rival Mogadon for its soporific qualities but instead it has the audience in stitches. It's the way he tells them.

As the night wears on Justin starts to have doubts about the impending announcement of his engagement – and having met Derek and Dee who could blame him - Micky has his own doubts about wanting to work for Rudi any more while Paige just wants to escape the clutches of Rudi who is on his way back.

Meanwhile Arabella just wants to get home to Godalming, preferably via the pub and as a distraction after the desert, which presumably was taken minus a fork, we have a punch-up between Paige and Julie-Anne which sees our hostess having to take to her bed. As the dust settles on what is now an empty flat it is left to Derek and Dee to take on the simple task of explaining it all to our friendly neighbourhood nutter Rudi. Good luck with that one Derek, old son.

So as dinner parties and engagement announcements go it perhaps does not class as a stunning success but for the audience it was a most enjoyable evening from the soup right through to the cheese and biscuits and liqueurs.  First class entertainment. To 24-09-11. 

Roger Clarke

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