What better way to update French farce L’Hotel du Libre Échange than to transport it to the early 70s, with a set and ambiance so evocative you can feel the spangles and taste the artex? Voila: Sex And The Three Day Week – a ready-made Christmas farce as a companion piece to the Everyman’s rock’n’roll panto.
The frequent blackouts, lack of petrol and cumbersome rotary dial telephones actually play vital parts in the unfolding narrative, as emasculated structural engineer Philip McManaman (a nervy, randy, bearded Edward Harrison) plans a night of rumpy-pumpy with his frustrated wallflower neighbour in a nearby fleapit.
Throw in a Mrs Malaprop, beautifully played by Eileen O’Brien, a mynah bird voiced by Ken Dodd, nymphomaniac French au pair and sleazy Spanish proprietor and things can’t fail to go The Full Ayckbourn.
Except they don’t quite manage it. There’s no lack of energy from the cast, nor unlikely car-crash coincidences – including one actual car-crash – but Sex And The Three Day Week drags and, oddly, isn’t especially funny.
Coming off the back of a masterful production of Noises Off at The Royal Court – and not so long since the wonderful trio of Norman Conquests at the Playhouse – this production pales rather in comparison; it’s somehow not equal to the gaudiness and bawdiness of the era it’s replicating, arguably farce’s theatrical heyday.
There are good recurring gags, O’Brien has some gloriously naughty lines and David Birrell as Robert Ballard – a neighbour as buttoned-up as a bri-nylon shirt who, inexplicably, goes ghost-hunting in said hotel on the night of the nearly-nookie – looks born to play put-upon husbands in English sex romps.
Two interludes that track Philip’s desperate bike ride to the Hotel Paradise and hotelier Sebastian’s fourth-wall-breaking description of his new life in Torremolinos threaten to up the ante a little and the former is reminiscent of the high-octane physical, comedic theatre of Kneehigh or Peepolykus, but there’s precious little of it. Marzan (one third of the latter) throws a few asides to the crowd but, again, it feels a little safe when the narrative returns to chug through its inevitable closing moves.
There’s much to enjoy – and Sex And The Three Day Week offers an interesting counterpoint to the Everyman’s Rock’N’Roll panto, though it’s possibly less naughty, which is extraordinary. The audience can admire the scenery as much as the actors who are chewing it and it seems that we only have look at a pair of sideburns to break into peals of laughter these days but, like most of the characters, Sex And The Three Day Week fails to reach its own petite mort.
Like ’70s intercourse, it’s hirsute, rather safe, a little saggy but not unenjoyable.
Sex and the Three Day Week
Until 10 January 2015
• Images by Topher McGrillis