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A CurtainUp Review

By Lizzie Loveridge

I blame the health club for this. Places like that. Young men with nothing better to do all day than to work on their bodies and look for action. All those muscles, all those bodies in tight fitting clothes, all that perspiration. A poor woman like me was bound to fall for it. I shall not be renewing my membership, I can tell you. -- Beatrice

Two people, bonded together, their fate intertwined and inevitable as in the tradition of Greek tragedy, except Cuckoos is a play written in 1990 by an Italian, Giuseppe Manfridi, published in a collection of plays under the title of Theatre of the Excess. A young man and an older woman have met at a gym, returned to his flat for a spontaneous sexual adventure and find themselves locked in anal intercourse. He phones his father, a gynaecologist, for assistance and pending his arrival, they cover themselves not with fig leaves, but with a parachute. As the father attempts to extricate the couple, they discover that their paths have crossed before. To say any more would be to spoil some of the suspense.

Remember that it was Peter Hall who directed Becket's Waiting for Godot in London more than forty years ago, so he is a risk taker. This was before he founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, was in charge of the National Theatre and started his own innovative, repertory company at the Old Vic. At a cursory glance, the subject matter of this play may appear a tad risqué, even in today's "anything goes" London, but with Sir Peter Hall directing on the fringe for the first time in many years, it is worth a second look. Add to this the reputation of the Gate Theatre for mounting a worthwhile programme of innovative drama and my instinct to drive across London on a dank and cold Monday night proved reliable. The discovery for me is the excellent English adaptation by the playwright and academic, Colin Teevan, Head of Drama at Queen's University, Belfast. I was never conscious that I was listening to a translation such is the flow of words, the naturalness of the conversation and the penmanship.

Kelly Hunter plays Beatrice, catholic and Italian with all the shame and confusion that religion brings to sexuality, even before being found in a position of such compromise. Paul Ready is Tito, an innocent, the young man who is not afraid to enjoy himself. His father Tobia is David Yelland in splendid form, confident and smooth, but at the same time so proud of his son's sexual prowess as he shares the photos of junior out of his wallet with Beatrice. These performances are out of the ordinary and lift the play as does the standard of writing, although you may find yourself laughing with a simultaneous expression of disbelief and embarrassment as Tito reaches orgasm for the umpteenth time. However it is not a titillating play but one of tragedic moment.

In his introduction the director talks about credibility and the power of imagination, "There is a plain ordinariness about these amazing stories which makes the audience believe. Of course the audience know that the events are not real but they want their ability to imagine to be respected." His direction has Yelland free to stride and pose, puffed up with professional and purported parental pride. Thankfully any rectal examinations take place under the voluminous parachute silk but the possibilities of dynamic direction when two of the characters are welded together are still explored here. The heads of Beatrice and Tito appear from under their parachute like a scene from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Lucy Hall's set has the confines of a small apartment, the colours are monochromatic, the detail accurate.

The twists in the plot are engrossing, some are unexpected, some you may have the satisfaction of guessing slightly before they are revealed. Unlike some of the plays that I have seen recently, I found myself warming to all three characters, not just finding them believable but actually liking them. This is well crafted theatre, directed expertly and ably performed. I shall hope to encounter Giuseppe Manfridi and Colin Teevan in future productions.

Written by Giuseppe Manfridi
English version by Colin Teevan
Directed by Peter Hall

With: Kelly Hunter, Paul Ready, David Yelland
Set Design: Lucy Hall
Lighting Design: Neil Austin
Sound Design: Steve Morgan
Running time: One hour fifteen minutes without an interval
A co-production of The Gate Theatre with the Royal National Theatre Studio Springboards initiative
Box Office: 0207 229 5387
Booking to April 22nd
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 27th March 2000 performance

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