By Richard Harris
January 24th - 26th, 2002
The Tower Theatre Company performing at the Tower Theatre, Canonbury
Review by Marion Cotter
Marion is a publisher and theatre reviewer for www.coventgardenlife.com
With its cracking comic script, absence of set changes and a cast almost equally split between men and women, Outside Edge is not surprisingly a perennial favourite among amateur drama groups.
First staged at Hampstead Theatre with a cast including Maureen Lipman and Julia McKenzie, Richard Harris's hit comedy enjoyed a hugely successful West End run before being made into a TV play starring the late great Paul Eddington as Roger. Later still, a TV mini series was spawned, featuring the characters who make up the cricket team captained by Roger.
The action takes place at the cricket pavilion before and during a match, with the pitch (in best Ayckbourn fashion) being offstage where the audience is sitting.
While the play is ostensibly about cricket, it's actually about relationships - and Harris is soon lifting the lid on all manner of angst and extra-marital shenanigans among the lead characters. The script demands not only split-second comic timing, but sharp characterisation and the ability to bring out the pathos of the characters' (largely unhappy) private lives.
Team captain Roger - a likeable, but rather pompous prat - and mumsy Mim, his long-suffering wife, are the central couple in this quick-fire suburban comedy. Their casting is crucial, since it's the chemistry - or, perhaps lack of it - between them that provides the canvas on which the other players appear.
It may have been first night nerves, but the chemistry between Roger and Miriam didn't really work. Douglas McDiarmid played frightfully British Roger a touch too aggressively, making it hard to understand just why Miriam devoted herself to him so selflessly. Some of Roger's brilliant comic lines were thrown away - and if we don't laugh at him, the play loses much of its comic edge.
Miriam was well played by Sally Hepplewhite with her head and shoulders suitably tense, but needed better voice projection.
The other problem with these two - and indeed with most of the cast, save lecherous Dennis - was cue bite. Plays like this demand machine-gun delivery to pull the laughs, and pauses of just a second can seem like a lifetime when there should be no pause at all. It rarely happened in this production - giving the audience little ammunition to crease up with the bellows of mirth the script deserves.
Michael Allaway as drunken slob Bob (a touch over-acted) made it hard to understand why his cuckolded wife Annie put up with him in the first place. Janet South as Ginny played a straight bat faultlessly.
Bob Hutt as Dennis lit up the proceedings from his first entrance. Often the link man between other conversations and rows, he was the sharpest actor on stage, using his face to excellent effect as the lech who is secretly hen-pecked by his off-stage wife. This was a part played to oily perfection, making Hutt without doubt my man of the match.
Jimmy Harris as diminutive Kevin, and Meryl Griffiths as his bricklaying, roll-your-own Cockney wife Maggie, have the parts to go over the top with. While Maggie stayed just the right side of credible, Kevin was a tad too boyish for her full-on affection.
Mark Macey as the flashy, smart-ass lawyer Alex and the running gag walk-ons of Cheryl Ko as his simpering dollybird Sharon - soon hilariously desperate to get to the loo -raised some of the biggest laughs of the night.
Sound effects from the off-stage match worked well, and the decision to play the signature tune from TV's Test Match Special as a scene-opener was inspired, putting us all in expectant mood. Roger Beaumont's successful set conveyed some of the minutae of a small-time cricket club pavilion.
While the cast gave a spirited performance, Roger Beaumont's production dragged its heels at times. I can't help feeling that an extra week's rehearsals might just have turned some of those awkward exits, swallowed punchlines and hesitant pauses into a seamless hit production.