Photographs included courtesy of Chris Shepheard.
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Review of Key for Two, directed for the Bourne Players by Noel Thompson
The Bourne Players made an excellent decision in choosing to present Key for Two by John Chapman and Dave Freeman. John Chapman’s first play Dry Rot was such a success it ran for three and a half years (and is being revived later this year at the New Victoria, Woking). He went on to write such successes as Thames Television’s Fresh Fields and, in collaboration with Carla Lane, The Liver Birds on the BBC.
The play’s central character is Harriet (Helen Phillips) whose living expenses are met by her two lovers, each married to a wife of his own. Each man thinks he is the only one in Harriet's life, and she orchestrates their comings and goings with expert artistry. She explains she needs two lovers because, between Maggie Thatcher and the British economy, “It's been a very bad year for kept women”.
Complications arise, like a car crash that is played in slow-motion over the course of the evening, when Harriet's friend Anne arrives unexpectedly, followed by both the lovers, and then Anne’s estranged husband and then, inevitably, both the lovers’ wives.
As Harriet, Helen Phillips is the ringmaster of this increasingly complex scenario and it was a delight to watch her devising lie upon ingenious lie as each new character arrived at her flat. She is a very natural actor and has the talent to make such complexity seem easy, successfully convincing one of the lovers’ wives that her flat is in fact a nursing home. This lie culminates in the closing line of the play: three of the ‘staff’ of the ‘nursing home’ on a bed drinking champagne, while Harriet, with characteristic calm, bluffs “We’re having a staff meeting”.
This is a play that demands snappy timing and the Players’ excellent cast didn’t disappoint. The performance was well paced and things ran smoothly despite a whole jungle’s worth of elephant traps in the script. Richard Amero as the string-vested northern trawlerman was splendidly gruff and grumpy and was a good foil for his rival. Alex Scrivens played the other lover, and his agonies, both of physical pain and bewilderment, were very convincing.
Sarah Owens as the friend Anne was teasing and pretty and pleasing and witty, which will have kept at least the male half of the audience in a state of contentment for the evening.
The two wives, like their husbands, were played as highly contrasting characters. Helen Lord’s Magda managed, with paramount dimness, to miss all the clues to the subterfuge before her, and Louisa Donaldson summoned up the spirit of Nora Batty, albeit in a rather posher version, in her fabulously acid Milly.
Adrian Rathmell played the drunk veterinary husband of Harriet’s friend and thoroughly entertained the audience with his facial gymnastics. He achieved one of the biggest laughs of the evening when he cast his professional eye despondently on Milly’s discarded fox fur and solemnly slurred “I’m afraid it’s too late”.
A special mention must be made of Ellis Nicholl’s set, which ingeniously presented a believable two-bedroom flat without any of the cluttered, cramped sense you can sometimes get with single sets and the chopping and changing action of a farce. Amateur dramatics thrives on light comedy and this company does it rather well.