Basket Case – November 2011

6/10

By Nick Fisher

Directed by Robin Lefevre

Company: CFT & Royal and Derngate

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Monday 28th November 2011

This was a first-time stage play by Nick Fisher, who wrote Manchild for the BBC, which starred Nigel Havers. Nigel is back for more as an immature divorcee who can’t quite come to terms with the loss of everything – his wife, the family home, his dog, a game of golf. It’s pretty lightweight stuff, and covered familiar ground, but the performances were all good and there’s enough fun to make this an enjoyable evening. The dying pooch would have stolen the show, as usual, but for being very still in its basket for most of the play. It did manage a slight bow during the applause – don’t know how they worked it but we all loved it anyway.

The play started with Miranda, played by Christine Kavanagh, making muffins in her deluxe country kitchen for comfort food while she waits for little Toby to breath his last. The vet, Martin (Graham Seed), arrived to care for the pooch, and from their conversation it’s clear that Toby hasn’t got long. Guy (Nigel Havers), Miranda’s ex, turns up with his friend James (David Cardy); they’d been playing golf, but the imminent death of his dog is important enough to trump the fairway, though only just from the sound of it. Given that Guy has hardly seen Toby since leaving Miranda for another woman, he’s hardly in a strong position to complain about Miranda’s choice of vet and proposed treatment of the dog, but this is comedyland, so of course he does.

It’s all a reaction to finding out that Miranda is now unavailable, as she’s got a new man in her life, one who makes her feel good as a woman (and we all know what that means!). Guy’s relationship with Sonya, the other woman, has failed (I wonder why?) and several times he tries to tell Miranda something, but she doesn’t let him. It seemed pretty clear that Guy wanted to get back with Miranda, and equally clear that he wasn’t going to succeed, but that didn’t stop him trying. His rant about Miranda conspiring with Martin to have Toby put down so she could be with her new man (Evre?) was funny at first but went on a bit too long. Fortunately the roasted espadrilles cut it short, and with Toby dying just before the end, they were briefly reunited in grief, but not for long I suspect.

The structure of the play was a series of sketch-like scenes in the kitchen between various characters, often alternating between Guy and Miranda, and Martin and James. James was completely unconcerned about the dog but did want his dinner, and the muffins were soon polished off, as were some crisps and a slice of quiche. Martin was the nerdy type, correcting James’s sweeping statements about salmon, for instance, but joining in the discussion about which snacks were entitled to be put in bowls – yes to cashews apparently, but no to peanuts unless they were honey roasted. This sort of thing was pleasant enough, but there were fewer laughs in these sections. The conversations between Guy and Miranda however had more punch; given their past relationship, that wasn’t surprising, and it’s where the occasional ‘fuck’ and ‘bugger’ were used, and used appropriately.  In fact the first half ended on a ‘fuck’ (Miranda had just exited after telling Guy her new man’s name). When Miranda revealed that she’d already sold the house, and to someone Guy knew, his reaction was very funny. Even if the new owner was one of his friends, there was a rivalry there, and Guy wasn’t happy at all.

Apart from this, there was a one-sided phone call in the opening section when Miranda was on her own – their son had discovered he’d left his wallet at home after filling his car with petrol, could Mum pay for it with her credit card over the phone? Then in the second half, to get some revenge on Miranda’s new man, Guy took his espadrilles and put them in the hottest part of the four-oven Aga. We’d already heard that you can’t smell anything from an Aga as they have a flue, so the shoes and the Le Creuset would be ruined before Miranda noticed. Neither of the other two men did anything about this – James did set the timer for forty minutes, as requested – so when Miranda finally smelt the unusual recipe, she’s pretty miffed. The men tried to stop the smoke alarm that had been set off when the dish was taken out of the oven, but it obligingly broke before they could belt it with the broom that Guy brought in – we assume that was a genuine mistake.

When Miranda left for some fresh air, having shooed James and Martin out as well, Guy is left to say farewell to little Toby, still just hanging on in his basket. After explaining the joy of a precision-made golf club, Guy took another sporting implement out of his golf bag, and when he took the cover off it turned out he had a shotgun. He loaded it and had several goes at finishing off Toby himself, but just couldn’t do it. Then he looked for a bag to put over Toby’s head, and this led to the best laugh of the evening when all he could find was a ‘bag for life’. Just as he was about to do the deed, he found Toby was finally gone. At that point Miranda returned, leading to their final embrace over the dead body, with Guy sneaking his hands on to Miranda’s buttocks – ever the opportunist.

The set was basically the kitchen, with a large island in the middle, the Aga back left, a range of fitted furniture to the right of that, and some chairs around the place. Some oak beams overhead gave the countrified feel – the play was set in Wiltshire – and the dog basket was towards the front on the left.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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