ComedyDramaNorth WestReview

Strangers on a Train Set- The Lowry, Salford  

Writers: Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding

Director: Lawrence Till

Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

Comedy duo Lip Service, comprising Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding, are essentially parodists; paying affectionate tribute to the greats of literature and cinema. Despite the title, however, their latest production does not reference the novel Strangers on a Train by Highsmith or the film of the same name by Hitchcock.

It is not easy to pin-point a single piece of work to which Fox and Ryding are paying tribute with Strangers on a Train Set. They cram in so many jokes it is hard to sift through them and find a focal point. Eventually, their primary source emerges as Brief Encounter which not only reflects the duo’s appreciation of all things typically British but also catches the bittersweet sense of a relationship that ended too soon.

Model train enthusiasts Derek and Geoff are at The Lowry to deliver a lecture, complete with working examples, on the varying types of models. Geoff, however, is distracted, unable to forget that his father never returned home after attending a railway convention in 1960. As the presentation continues the model characters used to populate the train layouts develop their own relationships, independent of Derek and Geoff, which serve as a series of short stories. Strangely the toys also seem to be developing a level of self-awareness as they start to question puzzling events in their little world.

Director Lawrence Till develops a warm, do-it-yourself, atmosphere for Strangers on a Train Set.T he play is actually a multi-media event but the staging is so modest all involved would probably find such a description to be pretentious. Filmed inserts by Connoll Pavey allow Fox and Ryding to appear on-screen over the stage in character as Derek and Geoff while simultaneously performing live in a range of other roles on the stage below. Despite the sophistication of the concept, the actual enactment is decidedly low-key with scene changes facilitated by shoving screens around the stage and gags about delayed trains used to allow time for switching costumes.

Strangers on a Train Set certainly gives value for money. There are a staggeringly large number of jokes forced into the play ranging from clever references to groan-inducing puns. The Brief Encounterparody knowingly remarks on the characters’ habit of speaking precisely and rapidly. A bag just happens to contain all of the murder weapons used in the game Cluedo.  For some reason it is hard to fathom there is even a tribute to Rod Hull’s Emu.

The approach makes for a crowd-pleasing but an uneven piece of work. Just as it seems the play is settling down into a Miss Marpleparody it jumps into a Railway Children tribute.  At times it seems as if the duo is so determined to ensure no-one is unsatisfied they accept making the play a bit confusing as a fair price for stuffing it with gags.  

Fox and Ryding work together as a very close team reminiscent of the comedy greats. When one makes a slight slip the other turns it into a running gag. It is very easy to see how Lip Service have developed such a devoted following; their fans roar approval at every gag and cheerfully, when prompted, wave pictures of underpants in the air.

Strangers on a Train Set is a gleefully ramshackle tribute to cinema classics by a duo determined to ensure everyone in the theatre leaves happier than when they entered.

Reviewed on 17 May 2019 | Image: Contributed

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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