17 March 2014
Paul F Cockburn reviews this wonderfully entertaining and downright funny sex comedy, which tours Scotland until 29 March.
Arguably, Johnny McKnight’s new play for Birds of Paradise and his own Random Accomplice theatre companies touches on a lot of potentially serious subjects.
There’s the age-old battle of the sexes. The personal stresses and strains that come from us attempting to match increasingly ridiculous ideals about the perfect physique. The loss of the old certainties of ‘dating’ in an age of smart phone apps, which make it far easier to ‘sex text’ anonymously with a total stranger than to talk dirty with them face-to-face in their bedroom (especially one as voluptuously red as this one designed by Neil Haynes). The significance too of language – especially colloquial West of Scotland language – when it comes to defining and reflecting class, culture and disability. Our desire, despite any protestations to the contrary, to find some genuine love and authentic tenderness beyond that all-too-brief first flush of carnal passion.
Yet to focus on how McKnight approaches any of those issues disgracefully ignores the most fundamental feature of Wendy Hoose; that it is gloriously, laugh-out-loud funny. And that’s from even before the action starts on stage.
For, as it turns out, the first voice the audience actually hears belongs to the production’s audio describer, a somewhat prudish, well-mannered young lady by the name of Anne-Marie (voiced by Julie Brown). Early on she insists that she’s “not the Voice of God”, yet – as the evening progresses – she’s more than ready to look down, contemptuously, on the characters and everything that happens between them.
This is perhaps the most obvious way in which co-directors McKnight and Robert Softley Gale (one of the new creative triumvirate at the helm of Birds of Paradise Theatre Company) successfully incorporate into Wendy Hoose the “accessibility” elements that can all too easily become distracting ‘add-ons’ to most of the audience.
So, for example, the BSL interpreter (Catherine King) is on a silent television screen in the corner, flickering in and out between other random images of late night television. Meanwhile, above everyone’s heads, the surtitles don’t merely display the dialogue, but also throw in amusing emoticons, instantly recognisable high street logos and even a few somewhat risqué animations for good measure.
Effective though such communications are, the emotional heart of Wendy Hoose comes from two finely judged, seemingly effortless performances from Amy Conachan, as the voluptuous and ‘legless’ Laura who lives in Cumbernauld, and James Young as Jake, ‘playing away’ from Paisley and all too obviously hiding behind the increasingly cracked macho bravado of the young Scottish male looking to ‘poke’ her before his taxi arrives. By the close of the play we genuinely feel fondness for both, and have enjoyed their company.
As a calling card for the new direction for Birds of Paradise, this is a wonderfully full-on, no-holds-barred declaration of intent to produce entertaining theatre with heart, intelligence and flair. It may well be rude at times, but it clearly comes from a Scottish theatre that’s in rude health.