No Sex Please We're British

Date 1st April 2022
Society Ampthill & Flitwick Dramatic Society
Venue TADS Theatre Toddington
Type of Production Comedy Drama
Director Helen Morris
Producer Helen Morris
Written By Anthony Marriott & Alistair Foot

Report

Author: Richard Fitt

Whilst showing my age I must admit to missing this the first time around back in the 70’s. I remember it being the talk of the town and a classic example of how out of touch the critics were with the ticket buying public. They totally panned it and yet it went on to perform 6761 performances in the West End becoming the longest-running comedy in British theatrical history. So here I was fifty years later finally getting a chance to see what all the fuss was about and who in my opinion was right.

The basic plot is about a newly married couple living in the flat above a bank at which he is the assistant branch manager, while she sends off for some Scandinavian glassware, but what arrives instead is a deluge of pornography in the form of post cards, books and films.  What then follows is a manic two hours of trying to hide and dispose of the offending items from under the noses of his interfering mother, his boss at the bank, a visiting bank inspector and a police superintendent. In other words, classic British farce territory.

The set was very well designed, a central rear wall with a cut out serving hatch to a kitchen behind it and corridor stage left as its entrance. Whilst a staircase stage right cleverly spiralled behind the central flat to portray entrance to the upstairs bedroom. In front of the serving hatch was the obligatory seventies drinks table.  To stage right were flats with two doors to give entrances to the front door and the couples bedroom, both painted a dark pink, whilst the flats stage left had 3 doors giving entrances to bathroom, study and spare bedroom all painted white. Quite a feet of engineering given the small size of the TADS theatre stage. The décor was equally very well thought out with loud floral, classic of the period, wallpaper going up the stairwell and the contrasting colours from either side of the set. Furniture consisted of a centrally placed two-piece sofa adorned with cushions (later used to hide offending items), a CRT TV and an armchair downstage left. I would however be remiss in not remarking that there were some ‘anchorage’ issues which resulted in at least one door becoming unusable for the last part of the first act. The servicing hatch had a bamboo blind which in the script has a mind of its own and opens and closes unaided. Trouble was it too seemed to have off script moments, which all added to the hilarity.  But all in all, Stage Manager Simon Tuck and his crew should be more than pleased with the end result.

Paul Horsler’s lighting, operated by Richard Moynhan’s lit the stage perfectly with sound effects operated by Sam Kenealy completing the set. Unfortunately, the front door intercom had a bit of a technical day off towards the end but apart from that everything worked well. It must have been a herculean effort to get it all up and running on time. So well done indeed to all involved. Splendid set!

James Kirkhouse states in the programme, ‘I only got into AM Dram the year before Covid.’ You’d never have known it as he gave a very convincing self-assured performance of a far more experienced actor playing Peter Hunter the assistant bank manager, around whom the whole story revolves. If, as implied, this was his first lead part, then AFDS are lucky he landed on their doorstep. Nice job Sir! Looking forward to seeing more of him in future.

Emma Pugh was his perfect foil with a very solid performance as his newly wed wife Francis, very much put upon by the arrival of her overpowering mother-in-law, dealt with by tact and deftness. She certainly understood the secondary 70’s attitude to women in her position. Nicely done.

Experienced actor Alistair Kelly had the pivotal role of Brian Runnicles, a slightly manic character on the edge of a breakdown as he is more and more put upon in the effort to rid the flat of the offending porn. Not an easy role by any stretch of the imagination but hats off to Alistair he certainly gave it his all with an entertaining interpretation.

Sarah Benjamin showed all her experience and absolutely nailed the mother-in-law, Eleanor Hunter. The ‘don’t mind me’ attitude hiding the all-controlling ‘I will have my own way’ reality, complete with 70’s upwardly mobile snobbishness. Perfect portrayal and no doubt recognisable by a lot of put-upon daughter/son-in-laws up and down the land!

Aldo Saralli as Peter’s boss Lesley Bromhead and would be suitor to Eleanor was one of the only straight characters of the show, playing a ‘morally upstanding’ bank manager or so we thought as he wooed Eleanor, until he was revealed at the end as somewhat less innocent that he let on.

Lee Couser as Superintendent Paul played a straight bat in the role suitably putting Peter and Francis on edge every time he appeared, always of course at inconvenient moments.

Rod Eyre has, according to the programme, been involved in theatre for forty years and he certainly showed that experience with an absolutely masterly performance as bank inspector Arnold Needham. His voice, his demeanour were every bit the character, and for me the standout performance of the show with his stance, or rather lack of it when under the influence of the administered sleeping pills and Peter trying to prop him up. Absolutely brilliant! And of course, he delivers the title line of the show. ‘No sex please….’

And what can you say about Jane Murdoch and Carmel Byrne’s antics as goodtime girls Susan and Barbara as they chase a pyjama clad, semi-conscious bank inspector round the flat with a rather oversized rubber sex toy! That image alone is enough to bring a smile to one’s face and will be stuck in the mind for quite some time to come!

This was certainly a hard-working cast and crew, who had not only put in the long hours to bring this to the stage but had major problems along the way with having to re-cast three main cast members, two in the middle of January (Eleanor and Superintendent Lee) and one at the beginning of February (Needham), and with three cast members having had covid during the rehearsal period just as they had set up the scenery to rehearse at the hall for the two weeks leading up to the show and the co-director pulling out towards the end of February.   So full credit to everyone for that! The determination of the society to make sure ‘the show must go on,’ can not be praised highly enough. An extraordinary feat of dedication!

So back to the first question, did I agree with the critics or the public? Well, I can see both sides, but it is a piece very much of its time. Not a story line that holds much water in the third decade of the 21st century. Attitudes have changed. Farce of this kind is not really in vogue today and I think the audience reaction reflected that. They laughed in all the right places, but at the individual jokes rather than the ‘hurt the ribs’ laughter farce of the period that masters of the art, like the late Brian Rix would have extracted from audiences of the time. That certainly wasn’t down to this hard-working cast who gave it their all, but for me the script doesn’t really work fifty years later. But thank you to AFDS for giving us a highly entertaining evening, especially with all the additional problems you had and finally letting me see one I missed first time around.

Well done one and all. Take a bow AFDS and especially Director Helen Morris who against all odds and having to unexpectantly take on multiple backstage tasks, got there in the end! You certainly deserve it!