Straight and Narrow by Jimmy Chinn is a witty kitchen sink drama first performed in 1987. Bob, played by Lewis Allcock, introduces us - in a hearty monologue - to his partner Jeff, played by Todd Von Joel and his outrageous family consisting of: his mother Vera, played by Carol Royle, his sisters, Lois and Nona played by Kerry Enright and Harriett Hare and then their respective partners Bill and Arthur played by Damon Jeffrey and Gavin Duff. The larger-than-life family is full of bonkers bickering and endless upheaval.
Mark Curry’s directorial debut is a fun delight. Despite the extremely short rehearsal period and not all the actors managing to make it off book, this little production has some golden moments with contagious cackles from the audience. Curry’s use of the space to manoeuvre the crowded cast of 7 in a cosy fringe theatre is succinct and engaging. The creative use of transitions within the space is seamless, keeping a tidy pace on the throughline from start to finish.
Allcock’s endearing everyman keeps you entertained from the get-go with their warm Lancashire accent and friendly demeanour as they ponder the British temperament as we are forever lying due to conditional politeness. The oozing charm melts into a seemingly quaint relationship with Von Joel’s Jeff as the menial day to day chores are full of love and affection.
However, can this sickly-sweet adoration stand the test of Bob’s family? Royle’s Vera is a meandering moaner as they find every excuse to prod and poke where they are unwanted. Royle’s image, thanks to David Shields’ expert costume design, is the exact definition of your stereotypical in-your-face pestering mother. It’s a shame Royle is relying on a script due to lack of rehearsal time; this is untidily obvious in the opening scene as there is a severed connection between the family and themselves. However, Royle does find her stride and gives a truly eccentric comedic performance.
Hare’s Nona is perfectly placed as a fragile mouse, a product of the 80s and the need to keep husband happy. Hare’s soppy despair at the beginning of the play is pitched just right to balance the cataclysmic events occurring around them. Enright’s Lois on the other hand is a bold and vivacious tour de force taking this piece to the next level. Enright’s connection to the rest of the family, particularly Bob and Vera, is a juggling act as they tirelessly attempt to keep the peace.
Shields’ design is expert. The beautiful attention to detail from keeping the period to creating the world of Bob and Jeff’s living room draws us in easily. Shields’ design for Vera is particularly entertaining as Vera enjoys a hideous blouse and cardigan with completely clashing red knitted hat.
Curry’s staging of Straight and Narrow, produced by Benoit Paturel, John Owens, and Andy Hill, is an exciting romp with great potential to evoke outrageous laughter.
It runs until 28 August.
Review: Sebastian Calver