Whenever I go to the Studio in Sheffield, I’m always amazed at how versatile a space it is. Like the Menier Chocolate Factory, every time you see a different show, the whole layout has changed. For D C Moore’s new play, the entire length of the wall opposite the entrance door has been given over to the set, a wonderfully convincing layout of a studio apartment – bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom (off) – just a bit of extra width and you would think it was absolutely for real. I loved the attention to detail of what was in the cupboards (they had those Nairn oatcake biscuits in all the flavours; I wonder if one of the cast or crew is a coeliac). You are asked to leave the auditorium for the (necessarily long) interval so that when you return the way it has been changed for the final scene has a terrific impact. Hats off to designer James Cotterill for his superb sets.
This is the third D C Moore play we’ve seen. We thought Town was a beautifully crafted, rather sad play about someone returning home, and Honest a superb one-man play set (and performed) in a pub. “Straight” shares some common themes with these earlier plays, such as dealing with hidden secrets, and the responsibilities of telling the truth. It’s based on a film, Humpday, which I haven’t seen, but having read its wikipedia entry I can see that the story of the play seems pretty true to the original film, but with a couple of additional twists at the end (which makes the story far more interesting, to be honest.)
Briefly, two old friends, Lewis and Waldorf, meet again after about ten years absence, get drunk and/or stoned on a night out and, inspired by one of Waldorf’s one-night stands, take a bet to perform in an amateur gay porn film. With each other. Penetrative sex, apparently; and they’re not gay. There’s no question that D C Moore is an exciting, original author and he creates moments of agonising self-revelation on stage. My personal main problem with this play is that I found the story rather hard to believe; and I also feel that the structure of the play is somewhat lumpy and that the story does not flow very well. The play culminates in an incredibly funny and cringe-inducing scene that deservedly brings the house down and ends with a serious and cryptic tone; but I sense that somehow the previous scenes have been pieced together backwards in order to get to that required conclusion. As a result there are some passages and plot developments that don’t really go anywhere, and a few character inconsistencies that tend to make you lose faith in the overall integrity of the piece. Mrs Chrisparkle accused the end of being a cop-out, deliberately vague and inconclusive. I’ve re-read the end a few times (the programme contains the script) and I do find it frustrating – I’d rather like the writer to commit himself to how he thinks life will go on in the future, but he doesn’t. I suppose it’s for us to decide; but I’m not sure I can really be bothered.
Having said all that, I don’t want you to think that it’s not up to much, because actually it’s a very funny, entertaining and revealing play, directed with warmth and feeling by Richard Wilson and with four excellent performances. Henry Pettigrew as Lewis has just the right mixture of sincerity and self-doubt, and his easily abused open nature is very believable. I relished his superb comic timing and he held the audience’s attention with ease. Jessica Ransom as his wife Morgan has a brilliant way with her eyes to show surprise, dismay and the hundred other emotions that the disruption of her easy life with Lewis now requires. She too has a guilty secret and her scene with Lewis before the interval is played with beautiful control and sad tenderness. Her journey from a relaxed if a bit complacent partner to someone who’s had all the certainty removed from her life is very moving.
Philip McGinley (great as Mossop in Hobson’s Choice) is Waldorf, a libidinous louche loner who you suspect has shagged his way around the world just because he could. He reminded me strongly of an omnisexual university friend – you know the type. He plays the role of semi-unwanted guest with roguish charm and is completely believable. Suffice to say Messrs McGinley and Pettigrew together enact a comic and theatrical tour-de-force in the final scene, and make the most of the comic embarrassment of their situation – it’s superbly well done. The final member of the quartet, Jenny Rainsford as Steph, appears only relatively briefly (which is a shame) and does an absolutely perfect interpretation of a stoned art student. Her voice and mannerisms were accurate to a T.
We were quite surprised that it wasn’t a full house on Saturday night, as normally the Studio is packed. This is definitely a production to see, if you enjoy a bit of shock, a bit of cringe and a lot of laughs. Just don’t think too deeply about the plot but revel in the performances and you’ll have a great time.