Theatre In The Round

MY FAT FRIEND at the Globe Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1.

Television writer Charles Laurence has used his experience in writing slick dialogue for such shows as ‘Now Take My Wife’, to good avail in this new stage comedy. He has provided Kenneth Williams with a deluge of sharp-edged remarks to fire at all and sundry – and admirers of Williams will know there is nobody around who can top him for acid-tongued delivery. I realise that a little of Mr Williams goes a long way (and here he is on stage almost throughout) but he is served well by the author, and manages to employ all of his many voices during the evening. At times the laughter of the audience began to sound like one of those dreary TV shows which use ‘canned laughter’ and there were moments when I wished the cast would pause just a moment longer, so that none of the dialogue was missed.

The play is set in the lounge and kitchen of a house in Hampstead. The owner is an overweight young woman who runs a bookshop adjoining the house. She has two tenants, one a young Scot who assists her in the shop, as well as doing most of the cooking in the house. Her other tenant is Kenneth Williams, playing (of all things) a civil servant. The bohemian atmosphere of the household is well established in the opening scenes, showing that none of the 3 characters are involved with each other sexually. However, the author has given Williams one extremely funny scene where he attempts a mock seduction of the other male tenant in the house.

After opening with a lavatory joke, I was relieved to find the humour improved by the minute with Williams berating the girl for being so fat, and going through every type of ‘fat joke’ in existence. She herself seems unconcerned about her appearance, but when a young man wanders into the shop in search of travel books and invites her out to dine, she has a change of heart.

An overnight romance begins before the man flies abroad for 4 months. It is then that Williams gets the idea for the girl to go on a crash diet and there follows some amusing moments involving a mobile sauna, as well as our heroine returning from a sprint on Hampstead Heath dressed in a ‘track suit’.

After an evening of such fast and witty dialogue, it was interesting to find a few quiet moments towards the close of the play that suddenly showed great insight into the main characters. Kenneth Williams is of course a delight, and it is a tribute to his talent that one never feels he is upstaging anyone else, as indeed the other 3 players are all allowed to make their presence felt. Jennie Linden is admirable in the title role, and two impressive West End debuts are made by John Harding as the serious young Scot, and Bernard Holley as Miss Linden’s admirer.

Bunny Ain’t Funny

BUNNY at the Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly Circus, London.

I have endured many of life’s disasters by holding on to the belief that ‘nothing is as bad as it seems’. However, this thought did not work for me as I sat watching this new Norman Krasna comedy titled BUNNY. The evening comprised two one-act plays about a high class call girl operating in New York.

I’ve grown so used to seeing Eartha Kitt over the years as that smouldering tigress that I was not ready for her giggling, at times almost hysterical portrayal of Bunny the call-girl. The play uses that device so popular in restoration comedy of having her walk stage centre and address the audience directly from time to time. This is usually a fun moment in a play providing the person doing the talking has some amusing comment to make. Alas, all Miss Kitt’s writers have given her is a prolonged chat about what will occur next. This style of theatre reaches a new low at interval time when our Eartha once again slips in front of the curtains to remind us not to smoke in the auditorium.

The second play was admittedly an improvement due to the fortunate casting of David Kossoff as an elderly Jewish business man who keets Miss Kitt and proceeds to have a platonic friendship with her. Their playing together is very good and both players are worthy of better material.

Having been an admirer of Eartha Kitt’s since the days when she was a dancer in the Katherine Dunham company (and she practically stopped the show with her one solo song) it saddens me to say that for once the magic doesn’t work. Come back soon, Eartha, in a better vehicle.

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