In the pubic interest
Come Into My Bed by Andr6 Launay (Whitehall) Funny Peculiar by Mike Stott (Mermaid) I Do! I Do!, book and lyrics by Tom Jones, music by Harvey Schmidt (Phoenix) The theatre-owner and impresario, Paul Raymond, is not a man with whom I should be incautious enough to take issue over questions of show-business acumen. Taste, yes (if he should ever lay claim to such a tiresomely uncommercial abstraction). Acumen, no. His has been perhaps the most spectacular showbusiness success story of the last twenty years, and the small, rare error of judgement that resulted in the failure of his previous show at the Whitehall Theatre he has been sharp enough to correct this week in regard to his new one. That is to say, heinvited the reviewers back in.
His error in not asking Ithem to write about Snatch 69 (which you May thus never have heard of, despite the m/ultiplicity of paronomastic jocularities contained in its title) was understandable enough. Its predecessor, a work called Pyjama Tops, had been grievously assassinated in all the prints. Wounding comments were made about its intellectual level, which was roughly that of Little Bo-peep, and some concern may have been expressed about the lateness of the performances which seemed way past the bedtimes of those for whom, and by whom, it appeared to have been written. The general burden of the reviews was that even those deprived chaps panting for the sight of naked girls might find that having to endure a farce of almost unparalleled witlessness was too high a price to pay for the realisation of their simple ambition. After which Pyjama Tops proceeded to run for six years; no financial injury was added to artistic insult; and Raymond understandably drew the
inference that he had no need of opinions that were demonstrably ignored.
Understandably, but wrongly. What he did not appreciate then, but plainly does now, is that in matters of this sort there is an unbridgeable credibility gap between reviewers and readers that is operating to his blissful advantage. Once the reviewer lets it out that a lot of girls are on the stage with their clothes off, the reader will guess that the next remark of the reviewer will be that he, of course, being as blasé about such things as a gynaecologist or a callboy at the Folies Bergere, was bored to distraction by it all, and the reader will not believe it, perhaps because he has always secretly wanted to be a gynaecologist or a callboy at the Folies ,Bergere, or perhaps because he suspects the reviewers of wanting to keep these delectable joys to themselves.
I have been using 'he' there as an all-purpose pronoun, and I am wrong: not because of the more ludicrous side-effects of recent legislation, but because I should make it clear that a great many women seem to feel the same way, and this is probably another respect in which the reviews seem to be helpful to Raymond's shows at the Whitehall. There are clearly women who want to look at other women's bodies, conceivably for reasons of admiration or comparison, and at one or two men's bodies, too (for these also are intermittently on hand), and though they may recoil fastidiously from visiting stripclubs, which they understand to be full of rather seedily lecherous men in raincoats, a show that has been attended and written about, however irritably, by re-iiewers is somehow different.
At this new show, Come Into My Bed, though it is roughly in the form of a play, I felt somewhat as a boxing correspondent might feel if called upon to report serious'y on an all-in wrestling bout. Even to mer tion the script is to be offensively hyperbolic; though mysteriously credited to one André Launay, its impression is of carefree improvisation and it is hard to imagine any line having actually been written down or, if so, for what purpose. The drivelling tedium of it expelled me from the theatre at the interval (that is to say, after what was described as 'Act 1'), by which time I had counted two funny lines: one was the "Goodness had nothing to do with it" riposte, credited to Mae West about forty years ago, and the other was an indifferent adaptation of a fairly witty piece of graffiti that will be familiar to the users of most public lavatories. As far as the nudity is concerned, things have moved on a bit since Pyjama Tops opened. It is evidently no longer necessary to think of even remotely plausible reasons for the girls to take their clothes off (in Pyjama Tops there was a swimming pool), since they are all virtually naked from their first entrances. They are all pleasantly configured and uninhibited, perform enthusiastically, and appear to be wholly innocent of the art of acting except to the by no means negligible extent that they project an appearance of enjoying their work. In the case of the men, the enthusiasm may be there but the appearance of enjoyment is less noticeable — which I cannot reasonably hold against them, since there are eight shows a week, and heaven knows it is difficult enough for actors even to cry to order.
It is a show that would almost certainly have delighted the distressed young hero of Mike Stott's play, Funny Peculiar, who is inordinately stimulated even by pictures of girls in the sex magazines which, as a village grocer somewhere in the Pennines, are all he has to make do with. Richard Beckinsale plays him and he's very funny with it, the situation turning upon the materialisation of his fantasies by the arrival in the village of a young couple as keen on sexual liberation and experiment as the grocer's reticent wife is indifferent to it. The wife is beautifully played, too (by Julie Walters), and I should hope to find a further opportunity of writing about the comedy and its moral propositions when it moves, as it assuredly will, into the West End.
Last week in the West End the only new thing was I Do! I Do! and the only new thing about that is that Rock Hudson and Juliet Prowse have come from America to appear in it. The piece was previously visited upon us in 1968, and you may also remember the non-musical version, The Four-poster, Jan de Hartog's two-character play covering fifty years of the connubial goo of a couple called Michael and Agnes. Hudson and Miss Prowse are required to seem likeable and even to remain cheerful while personating these characters as they wade stickily through as syrupy a set of domestic situations as you're likely to find outside the bound pre-war volumes of a not-very-glossy magazine for romantic but retarded girls, and on the whole they do.
The clichés, in order of appearance (not necessarily of limpness, which is more or less constant all through), are the Nervous Wedding Night, the Arrival of First Baby, the Other Woman, the Suspected Delinquency of Adolescent Son, Marriage of Daughter and Desire of Tired Wife for Last Fling, and Retirement to Smaller Home to Live Out Declining but Still Blissful Years. No suggestion of Real Life impinges upon these episodes (indeed, it is kept wilfully at bay by the pretence that the couple's affluent life is provided by the husband's novels, which sometimes sell as many as 3,000 copies) and their relentlessly twee sentimentality is hardly alleviated by the footling songs that go with them.