Jimmie Chinn’s sweet sitcom-style play is a pleasure. A closeted gay couple, Bob and Jeff, having fallen out on holiday, have to patch things up in front of their family. Sisters and brothers-in-law all provide laughs, as well as Bob’s formidable mother, Vera, who doesn’t even realise the men are together.
Written and set in the late 1980s, and a West End hit in 1992, the play has dated in an interesting way. Chinn was (over)keen to present the men as “normal and naïve”, you might even use that first word from the title to describe them! They are, in effect, married and share the same problems as other couples. Yes, there was a time this was an important point to make! Tension comes from the narrowness of their lives… Jeff is getting bored.
Further drama proves tricky and slows the play down: be it coming out or considering – gasp – becoming a parent. Nor does the play even mention bisexuality. And knowing how to end the story seems impossible: was Chin issuing a challenge to his audience? I’d love to know what ‘Generation Heartstopper’ makes of it all and hope the production gets the diverse audience it deserves.
First-time director Mark Curry and his designer David Shields are smart to play on nostalgia, and the show has a comfortable, campy air. Making an appearance before the start of the press night, Curry explained that rehearsal time had been limited and asked indulgence for performances with the script. Nobody should be worried. While there were moments that need tightening, most will surely come naturally. The production and the script are sound – Curry and his cast are to be commended.
The play’s structure has charm and there are good twists. Where Straight and Narrow has dated best is with its fine comedy. Chinn wrote some very good punchlines. Lewis Allcock’s Bob benefits from direct addresses to the audience that approach stand-up comedy. Todd Von Joel grows into his role as Jeff nicely. It’s an irony that the best laughs come from the women. Bob’s two sister are great roles for Kerry Enright and Harriett Hare, while his mother is a firm comic creation brought to life by Carol Royle: this “wily”, deliciously blunt and downright rude character is easily recognisable and a pleasure to giggle at. Curry has a clear ear for comedy and the play is straight up full of big laughs.
Until 28 August 2022