The Nerd

The Nerd, DAPA Theatre, Hamilton (ends October 22)

The title character in Larry Shue’s comedy is a man who turns up at a birthday party in 1982 for young architect Willum Cubbert. Willum is excited, because the man, Rick, saved his life while both were in the Vietnam War but the pair never met.

Rick, though, turns out to be a nightmare, making embarrassing comments and manipulating the partygoers into playing unworkable games that have them doing things such as taking off their shoes and, in the women’s case, stockings and pantyhose. By the time Rick has been a guest at Willum’s home for six days, Willum has had enough. How can he get rid of Rick?

There is a lot of repetition, with added twists, in Shue’s writing, but director Julie Black and the actors make the situations very amusing.

There is excitement, for example, in the voice of Willum (Luke Aspinall) when he tells the partygoers about the phone message he has received from Rick advising that he is coming. And the desperation in his sound and body language as he talks to the attractive Tansy (Alison Cox) about his disappointment in Rick also shows his concern that Tansy is heading to Washington to work in television, just at a time when he felt that she was aware of his romantic feelings for her.

Tansy and theatre critic Axel (Luke Carroll) have rooms in Willum’s house and are very different in their mannerisms. Axel’s loud comments suggest that he very much sees what is going on as part of a theatre show. And there is certainly a theatrical element to the arrival of Rick (Andrew Black), who comes to the party dressed as a creature from the black lagoon, having erroneously believed that it was a Halloween celebration. Black’s nerd is a laugh-getter from that first appearance, with his high-pitched voice making watchers wonder how he could have even been sent to Vietnam.

The other guests at the party are a hotel-owner who has engaged Willum to design a new hotel, his wife and young son. The hotel-owner, Warnock (Carl Gregory), is bullying in his demands, wife Clelia (Megan Connelly) announces that “I work with slow learners” and her often puzzled looks suggest that she herself is in that category. Their child, Thor, clearly takes after his father, clamouring loudly to get things. Eight-year-old Yaz Saint-Yves is delightful in this role, with the terror he shows when encountering the monster-clad Rick having the audience laughing loudly.

There is a twist at the end that will leave many watchers puzzled because the playwright doesn’t make clear what has happened. But the staging leading to that is fun.

Other Desert Cities

Newcastle Theatre Company (ends October 22)

FAMILY Christmas get-togethers can go awry when someone brings up a critical issue and that is the case in Jon Robin Baitz’s comedy. The title is drawn from a signpost in California pointing to “Palm Springs and other desert cities”, and while the Christmas hosts live in an elegant house in Palm Springs the family relationships are revealed to be far from fertile.

Daughter Brooke (Heidi Bush) is a novelist, but her soon-to-be-published latest book looks at a real event: the suicide of her older brother some two decades earlier. Parents Lyman (David Gubbay) and Polly (Katy Carruthers), retired Hollywood celebrities, aren’t impressed, and are determined to make her destroy the text. However, younger brother, Trip (Alastair Anderberg), who was just five when the older sibling passed away, and aunt, Silda (Tracy Ebbetts), Polly’s sister, are more supportive.

The revelations are well staged by director Howard Rawlinson and the actors, with a lot of amusing references and actions lightening the darker moments. Lyman, for example, was a movie star who was appointed an ambassador by Ronald Reagan when US president. Polly and Silda were screenwriters, and the liberal-minded Silda has never forgiven her sister for becoming attached to the Republican Party. Trip has become the producer of a popular reality television show that is far removed from the quality of his family’s movie work. With the story set in 2004, there are references to the Iraq military conflict and the New York World Trade Centre bombing. And there are surprise revelations, especially near the story’s end.

Heidi Bush brings out the internal conflicts of Brooke. She is recovering from a nervous breakdown but believes that publishing the tell-all story will help to restore her health, even though her parents want to keep the events within the family.

David Gubbay and Katy Carruthers show the parents to be very different in their behaviour, Polly is determined to prevent the revelations and is coldly demanding in talking to her daughter. Lyman, on the other hand, quietly chats to Brooke about the issues when they are alone.

Silda is recuperating from debilitating alcoholism and is a guest in her sibling’s home. But that doesn’t stop her from defending Brooke’s right to tell the story, with Tracy Ebbetts sharply bringing out her difference from Polly. And Alastair Anderberg’s brightly funny Trip understands the reasons of both sides, while constantly finding himself trying to make peace between Brooke and Polly.

The set designed by Graham Wilson and Matthew Lockyer brings out the elegance of Lyman and Polly’s home, with high mountains visible through the windows and glass doors.    

FlatSpin

Club 71 Dinner Theatre, St Peter’s Hall, Hamilton      (ends October 29)

THERE is a touch of Alfred Hitchcock to Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy FlatSpin, with a young out-of-work actress encountering various threatening people when she becomes the caretaker of a London flat and takes on the identity of the woman who rents it.

The actress, Rosie Seymore (Sandy Aldred), has no sooner farewelled an effusive real estate agent (Rebecca Wall) than a dashing man, Sam Berryman (Lee Mayne), who claims to have the flat next door, visits her and offers to cook dinner, followed by sexual activity. But nothing goes right from that moment, with one person after another coming to the flat when Sam is absent.

Ayckbourn adeptly gives a comic spin to the menacing figures, with aggressive words and actions that would have people on the edge of their seats in a thriller invariably producing laughter. And while there is occasionally flatness in the writing because situations are revisited, director Brian Wark and the cast keep the laughs coming.

Aldred and Mayne are a spirited pair, Amanda Woolford is unnerving as Edna Stricken, a stern woman who keeps returning to the flat and is clearly in search of something. Paul Sansom, as Sam’s boss, Maurice Whickett, is an unsmiling authority figure who could be a goodie or a baddie, Amy Mayne is his mean and moody sidekick, Tracy Taylor, and the behaviour of Drew Pittman’s Tommy Angel, a thick-set former SAS bodyguard, has the grinning watchers wondering what he was like in that role.

The show is staged in the round, with Barry Renshaw’s set, which covers several rooms of the apartment and a riverside balcony, amusingly used by the protagonists.    

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