Rattle of a Simple Man

Presented by St. Jude’s Players
Reviewed Friday 6th May 2011

Venue: St. Jude’s Theatre, Brighton Road, Brighton
Season: 8pm Wed 10th to Sat 14th May 2011
Duration: 2hrs 5min incl interval
Tickets: adult $19/conc $15/child $7
Bookings: 8270 4205

Percy and his friends have come down from Manchester for the weekend to watch a football match in London. After the match, they go out for a Saturday night on the town and end up in a club, where they meet Cyrenne, a prostitute. As the result of an alcohol influenced fifty pound bet with Ginger, one of his friends, Percy goes back to her home, which is where we meet them as they enter her run down bed-sit. She is brash and bold, he is shy and lacking in self-confidence, they are both lonely, and he is a 42 year old virgin, a scoutmaster, who still lives with his mother.

Charles Dyer’s 1962 play takes us back to the early days of the sexual revolution, but this is not one of those sexually explicit plays that were designed to do little more than shock. This is a finely written exploration of two people from very different backgrounds, living very different lives, suddenly thrown together through circumstance and slowly discovering the similarities between them. It is an unlikely love story.

Far from the sniggering and belly laughs of broad sexual comedies filled with cheap laughs, this is a gently humorous work which sees them slowly growing closer, with sudden disagreements pushing them apart again. It is a continuous cycle, but with the distance between them gradually reducing.

There is a brief interlude when her brother, Ricard, comes in and throws Percy out, but Percy circles the block until he has gone and then reappears, ostensibly to collect his forgotten football rattle. Ricard’s intent is to bully her into quitting prostitution and coming back to the family in a new venture, a restaurant that he is buying. She refuses, having previously worked in their stepfather’s café. Skeletons begin to come out of the family cupboard and, eventually he leaves.

This is the catalyst for a changes in the interaction between her and Percy, when he returns. They begin to lower barriers and drop the lies and pretences, opening up to one another and revealing their true selves. The ending is ambiguous, somewhat optimistic and approaching a new found tenderness for them both.

Director, Mary-Jane Minear, has avoided all temptation to simply go overboard in an attempt to make it funny and has opted for a more subtle approach, relying on the strength of the script and the talent of her cast to generate the laughs in a natural manner from the performance. Sadly, many directors do not understand this approach to comedy and wonder why audiences do not find their productions very funny. A good script and a good cast, of course, is essential, and here Minear is on safe ground.

Bronwyn Ruciak gives Cyrenne an outward show of strength, self-confidence and self-control, but with a certain fragility and an underlying, hidden tenderness. This is a believable, three dimensional and convincing characterisation. In a well measured performance, Ruciak slowly lets us see the cracks appearing in Cyrenne’s protective shell, the coolness eventually giving way to warmth towards the hapless Percy, his innocence and naivety overwhelming her because she has only prepared herself to combat a direct assault. She has no defence against kindness and gentility. Ruciak travels this difficult path giving us all of that complexity in a coherent and complete performance.

Andrew Clark’s Percy is, likewise, a fully developed characterisation, and his interplay with Ruciak’s Cyrenne has a poetic beauty. The comedy comes out because of the truth in their performances and their rapport. Percy is a quiet, unassuming man, locked into a routine, stuck in a dull job in the research department of the cotton mill where he and his friends all work, spending his after hours in simple pursuits, such as playing darts, leading his scout troop and watching football, and his passing his evenings at home with his mother. Clarke presents all of this in his performance, his use of his voice, his vocal inflections and his demeanour.

Sean Flaherty’s Ricard is suitably bombastic and belligerent, insisting that he has come to take Cyrenne home to the family and giving no thought to the possibility that she will not comply with his demands, being rather taken aback when she does. Flaherty is a little stiff in the role at this stage, perhaps a sign of some nervousness due to his inexperience, but this should improve with increased confidence over the run of the production.

Normajeanne Ohlsson has designed a detailed set depicting a long-neglected and decaying bed-sit, with outdated and stained wallpaper and ancient fixtures and fittings. The lighting and sound, by Evan Pearce and Ian Thomson, both anchor the era and add to the dinginess of the location. Judy Menz has helped the actors with her very appropriate costumes.

All in all, it was easy to see why the house was full and the applause was enthusiastic. This production is lots of fun, but with depth and meaning, making it a good night out.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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