Writer: Jimmie Chinn
Director: Mark Curry
Families and relationships come under scrutiny in Jimmie Chinn’s comedic drama Straight and Narrow. Set in the Manchester home of Bob and his long-term boyfriend Jeff, the play takes a peek at family dynamics with a particular optic on the little lies that keep things running smoothly. It shows love in its multitude of ways, between lovers, siblings, and parent and child, and how, through the mundane day-to-day plod of life how each think and care for each other.
Set in the 1980s, Bob and Jeff (Lewis Allcock and Todd Von Joel) are returning from a few weeks away in Malta. Bob’s family are at their place getting lunch ready and to welcome them home. Unfortunately, something went awry on the holiday and Bob and Jeff are in the middle of a blazing row. His elder sister, Nona (Harriett Hare) is a state of constant tears as her husband has run off with a check out girl from Boots, and his other sister, the very pragmatic Lois (Kerry Enright) tries to keep the peace, which isn’t easy with the matriarch, Vera (Carol Royale) always sticking her tuppence in.
Whilst the story is focussed on Bob and Jeff and what may, or may not have happened in Malta, the show is at its best just watching the natural family dynamic at play. The first half is really centred around the mother and the two daughters waiting for Bob to get home. All three are wonderfully played. Hare is wonderful as the on edge, recently dumped sister. Royale is brilliant as the overbearing mother. But it’s Enright who shines as the heavily pregnant, practical, peace-making, sibling.
The three of them together dominate the first half of the play and absolutely sparkle in their three-way interplay. In fact, as the show moves into the second half and the focus shifts to Bob and Jeff having returned from their trip, the comedy slows down and the zippy, comedic badinage turns more into a shouting match of arguments.
That’s not to say it’s bad; it is, in fact very good, but it’s unbalanced. The play is supposed to be about Bob and Jeff. Their rosy relationship is not what it seems. In Malta secrets and lies have been exposed, tempers frayed, and relationships reset. And while that’s a powerful and deeply engaging climax to the play, it feels secondary to the wider family stories that have been used to set up this resolution point.
In telling this story, a mixture of techniques is used to help cover a range of timelines, scenarios and set-ups. Allcock takes on a dual role, as Bob the character and Bob the narrator. As a narrator, he steps to the front of the stage, breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience. It’s both effective and awkward at the same time. Allcock delivers a fine performance as Bob the character but comes across as slightly uncomfortable as the narrator talking directly to the audience.
Mark Curry, probably best know for being a Blue Peter presenter and actor, directs with confidence. In fact, it turns out that due to scheduling conflicts with the theatre, this production has only been in rehearsal a week. Curry explained this before the show started and also explained that Royale would be keeping a script on her for the performance. Without this knowledge, this would have been considered a good production, but to turn this show around in a week and get the performances, pace and balance between comedy and drama to this level is a remarkable feat to all involved.
Runs until 28 August 2022