Director: Jason Lawson
Writer: Robert Farquhar
Reviewer: Lettie Mckie
Jermyn Street Theatre is, at first glance, an unprepossessing venue tucked away on a hard to find corner off Regent’s Street and decidedly shabby round the edges. First impressions, however, are notoriously unreliable and any misgivings I had floated away as I was greeted so warmly by the friendly volunteer staff, who pressed a plastic cup of rosé into my grateful hands. A refreshingly unpretentious old school London theatre, complete with air freshener in the toilet and a motherly attendant who called me ‘girl’ I fell in love with Jermyn Street within about a minute.
This was exactly about the time it took me to become equally enamoured with the reason for my visit, their current production of Robert Farquhar’s Kissing Sid James. An understated comedy set in a northern British seaside town it told the story of Crystal and Eddie who have come away for a dirty weekend together. Eddie (Alan Drake), a stationary sales man persuades alluring croupier Crystal (Charlotte McKinney) to stay with him in a seedy bed and breakfast and she, with some trepidation, agrees.
With a static set designed by Mike Lees most of the action takes place in the lurid bedroom which is bedecked with flowery wall paper, shiny pink bed spread and watercolour seascapes in plastic picture frames. In short the most revolting, but typical and somehow charming, British sea side B and B room you can imagine.
In this room Crystal and Eddie meet, disrobe, have awkward sex which is very unsatisfying for Crystal, argue, make up, argue again and share the odd moment of tenderness. The play is a story of these two lonely people who find it very hard to understand each other or how to act around somebody of the opposite sex without being by turns, scared, angry, selfish or dissatisfied. The result is not so much a comedy of errors as a comedy of misplaced hopes and expectations. Kissing Sid James was hilarious because it was, like a lot of good comedy, rooted in truth. Unglamorous and sometimes pathetic the characters’ were distinctly human, flawed and even pitiable. We laughed ruefully at their story, sometimes at them but mostly with them because they displayed achingly familiar emotions and desires, their mistakes were universal mistakes largely, their triumphs our triumphs.
The actors sustained our attention and kept the audience firmly wrapped up in the story. They did this because of their on stage chemistry, comic timing and an accuracy to real life that can’t be taught at drama school. Like the characters in the play the actors weren’t polished airbrushed shells but recognisable people who put every ounce of energy into their performances. The story came, perhaps a bit too slowly, to its anticlimactic ending. Crystal leaves and Eddie is not, particularly, broken hearted. This play showed us that romance is a much more complicated and mucky thing than Hollywood would like us to believe and sometimes, just for a while, it’s okay to be alone.