Friday, 27 September 2019

REVIEW: Valued Friends at the Rose Theatre, Kingston

This revival of the 1989 comedy by Stephen Jeffery about four flat mates who have shared a basement flat in Earls Court for ten years is set in the context of the London eighties property boom which saw prices begin to rise rapidly and the impact it has on their relationship. It is rooted in its time from June 1984 to May 1987 and while it wallows in nostalgia neither their relationships nor its prediction of collapse rings true in this first revival in UK for 30 years.

The problem is immediately evident in Michael Taylor’s cavernous set with high brick walls surrounding a square revolving dais which contrasts sharply with the images in the programme from Jeffery’s own London flat of the time. This feels a huge space and none of the issues of damp, cramped rooms or poor light in a basement flat are portrayed. Worse still when we are asked to leave the auditoria at the interval so the set that it can be transformed into the beginnings of a bijou London property investment are expectations are raised for something contrasting in Act 2. Instead we get a polished floor covered by a dust sheet. If ever a play cried out for a traditional box set with a sharp decorative transformation this one requires it.

This setting means the four friends have to work hard to create the feel of the period and the script fails to give them enough material to work on. Occasional references to Tippex, Live Aid, Miners strikes and Searchers concerts and some wonderful 80’s power dressing for Marion date the piece but don’t root it strongly. The past development of friendship between the four is hinted at (two were in a failed band) but never explained or made to feel real. They exist together but there is no feel of a bond even between the two who share a bed. The cleverest thing about the writing is the title and the focus of the play is on how the offer of value for vacant possession of the flat divides the four residents.

Catrin Stewart plays Marion, supposedly in a relationship with Paul (Sam Frencham), driven by ambition for herself and wanting a child. She is the strongest character, pulling the strings on and off stage and making things happen. Paul is a part time music critic who becomes obsessed by home improvements long before Homes under the Hammer became a TV hit! He wants to hang on to the past and not change while his girlfriend and the world around him is changing. He presents as a sad loser. His fellow former band mate is the Glaswegian Howard played by Michael Marcus, but he is an observer locked in his writing about the expected failure of the British Economy.

The best two characters are Natalie Casey as Sherry, the struggling comedienne
always in debt and Ralph Davis as the aspiring determined property developer, Scott. They present alternative attitudes to the use of money and bring most of the energy and fun to the action. The sixth cast member is Nicholas Tennant’s Stewart a philosophical builder who helps with the so-called transformation but mostly adds a faintly bizarre sounding commentary on the period.

Having just seen the wonderful revival of Ayckbourn’s 1967 comedy “Relatively speaking” at Salisbury and the French comedy “what’s in a name” at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud with its excellent evocative set it is inevitable that one compares this comedy to these two fine productions. It falls short on every level. You don’t care about the characters; it does not evoke the period very strongly and the laughs don’t come frequently enough to sweep you along and keep you engaged.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★

Seat: Stalls Row M | Price of ticket: £30
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