Warm and witty theatre

Picture: Tristram Kempton

One Monkey Don't Stop No Show

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

*****

IMAGINE you're in 1970s Philadephia and living in style with the middle-class, black Harrison family: mum Myra (Jocelyn Lee Esien) prone to Malapropism and pretension, dad Avery (Karl Collins) preacher-teacher with a healthy interest in sex, Junior aka Felix (Isaac Ssebandeke) protected preppy son with girlfriend L'il Bits (Rochelle Rose) unintentionally ‘in the club'.

There's enough there to be going on with – so add young Beverley (Rebecca Scroggs) pretty, freshly orphaned and up from the rural South, left in the unwilling and probably unsuitable care of nightclub owner Caleb Johnson (Clifford Samuel).

Three sets of couples in transition make up the story in this Eclipse Theatre Production; Myra and Avery rediscovering sex, Felix and L'il Bits sorting their ‘issues', and Beverley and Caleb. Caleb fancies himself a Svengali but he's a picked a tough cookie in Beverley.

My mind wandered to George Bernard Shaw who was inclined to put wisdom into the mouth of the ‘fool' as well as his oft-used theme juxtaposing wealth created by immoral means but used to do good.

Beverley is no fool, she knows her own mind, wise as Solomon and old as the hills, and lots to teach Caleb. Their scenes together are a battleground and their developing relationship is left hanging in a beautiful piece of theatre when he announces to anyone, notably us, that the lights shouldn't go up just there – he's not finished! He's prepared to tell us as audience his feelings for Beverley – but not her.

I enjoyed this immensely; the split set supported the range of pace between the frenetic, fast and funny scenes with the Harrison family contrasted beautifully with the quieter, gentler scenes between Beverley and Caleb.

It's maybe not for the maiden aunt, but this piece, first performed in 1982, is beautifully written by Don Evans, works really well and is a thrill to watch.

For me, the performance that lights up the B2 stage is Beverley. Her transformation from country hick to girl-about-town, teasing Caleb with her relationship with Roger, white and wealthy, underlines the thrust of the piece.

‘Bourgeois' is used as a term of abuse. Felix turns his back on his family's wealth but the girls, L'il Bits and Beverley know its value firsthand and choose an easier life. Directed by Dawn Walton, this is a witty, wise and warm piece of theatre at its best. To 16-03-13.

Jane Howard 

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