Writers: Sean Foley, Hamish McColl, Eddie Braben
Director: Sean Foley
The Play What I Wrote is something of a mystery. This Birmingham Rep production seems to garner very enthusiastic reviews, but really tries hard to justify them in only two sequences: the prior-to-the-interval song and dance to A You’re Adorable, with Carmen Miranda get-ups, and the play itself, A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple, a piece of French Revolutionary hokum that runs the gamut of French Revolutionary gags. Otherwise it jogs along pleasantly.
A secondary mystery is the special guest. Pre-performance publicity listed off any number of big names who have graced the production, but most of these were in the original London run. To someone who saw the production in Birmingham at Christmas it came as something of a shock to find Annette Badland still in command of the guest spot.
The plot is simple. Dennis Herdman wants to keep the double act together, Thom Tuck wants to put on his self-written plays. Dennis practises all sorts of deceit on Thom to keep him focussed, aided by Mitesh Soni whose ambition it is to play the harmonica in the show; the spotlighted “I remember…” sequence where he reminisces about his mother is an unexpected highlight. Eventually, after various hiccups – Ian McKellen still in the pub – in the second half Annette Badland appears and the play gets performed.
Dennis Herdman is a well drilled successor to Eric Morecambe, with a repertoire of silly walks to rival John Cleese’s, but he is not naturally funny, and Thom Tuck, cast in the role of straight man, shows moments of comedic flair. Both are excellent in the song and dance sequences and in the knockabout of the play within a play.
Mitesh Soni, dressed up in all sorts to convince the hopelessly credulous Thom, is an unexpected hit as Scarlett Johansen (and whatever garbled version of the name Dennis comes up with), David Pugh, the West End producer who is going to make stars of them both, a Revolutionary guard and so on. He finds the direct line to audience sympathies.
As for Annette Badland, she copes admirably with the demands of the part, including a spot of fairly restrained can-can dancing, but one is left wondering what a more athletic male performer would have made of some of the wilder moments.
Alice Power’s designs are pretty simple, but come into their own with the Bastille dungeon for the Scarlet Pimple to free the aristocratic prisoners. Sean Foley’s direction keeps it all on a tight rein and makes sure that the flat falls, Buster Keaton-style, around, not onto, Dennis and Annette Badland doesn’t lose her head!
Runs until 5th March 2022