‘a comedy of lack of manners, or of mannered people’s cringe-worthy attempts to misbehave’
Wendy Hoose is by Johnny McKnight and is A Birds of Paradise Theatre Company and Random Accomplice production. Directed by Robert Softley Gale & Johnny McKnight.
If you’re the sort of person who reads the small-print of theatre programmes, you’ll know all about audio description. Sitting at the back of selected performances, audio describers explain – for the benefit of those who can’t see the action themselves – exactly what’s happening on stage. lt’s normally done using headphones. But Julie Brown, Wendy Hoouse’s audio describer, wants to share her thoughts with all of us … so they’ve ditched the technology, and just let her speak over the PA.
Which, put like that, sounds suspiciously right-on. But Wendy Hoose is all about messing with expectations – and this particular subversion proves truly inspired. Like the opinionated narrator of a Victorian novel, Brown seemingly can’t keep her thoughts to herself, and colours her commentary with a hilarious blend of upper-crust unshockability and deadpan disdain. ”Jake touches Laura’s breasts. She doesn’t seem to mind,” Brown’s disembodied voice observes primly. And then, a moment later: “Which I guess is what makes her different from me.”
Wendy Hoose has been called a “comedy of manners”, but it’s more a comedy of lack of manners, or of mannered people’s cringe-worthy attempts to misbehave. Paisley man Jake meets the confident, sassy Laura on the internet, and turns up at her flat in Cumbernauld with casual sex on both their minds. But neither of them’s particularly good at it — and Jake, in particular, proves comically bad at actually getting the job done. You’ll have gathered that this isn’t a play for the easily-offended, but the whole thing’s played with a crucial measure of restraint; it’s explicit enough to draw squeals of shock from the audience, yet it somehow never quite lapses into being crude.
James Young is sweetly engaging as the nervous, restless Jake, deftly capturing a veneer of confidence disguising insecurity and confusion. Amy Canachan, playing the bold-as-brass Laura, mocks Jake’s Paisley tones – as do the captions above the stage, which also feature cheery cartoons and other unexpected visual flourishes. The two actors share a deft comic timing, and they carry the audience effortlessly into the few more serious scenes.
The story takes a thought-provoking turn part-way through, but it’s only at the end that it hints at its true message – a comment on isolation in our seemingly connected world, with resonance even for those completely unlike Jake or Laura. Perhaps there’s more to draw from that concept; the ending feels distinctly abrupt. And the pace drops a little around the twenty-minute mark, though the gasps of laughter soon start coming again.
When all’s said and done, though, the plot of Wendy Hoose was always going to be upstaged by its design. lt takes the tools of accessibility — the narration, the surtitles, the sign-language interpreter — and rather than letting them divide the audience, turns them into an entertaining treat which everyone in the room can enjoy. So you should try to see Wendy Hoose; not because it’s commendable or inclusive (though it’s surely those things), but just because it’s clever, and tremedously good fun.
Reviewer: Richard Stamp (Seen 29 March)
Visit Wendy Hoose homepage here.