Theatre review

THEATRE REVIEWBedPencil Case Productions, at The Royal Exchange, Newcastle.Ended Ended SundayBRENDAN Cowell’s play is literally set in one bed after another, as an old man, Phil, recalls the partners, male and female, who played the most significant roles in his life. His relationships with each of the five people are revealed in short episodes, with each seen three times and those watching learning the impact they had on him by their last appearance.
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The intimate Royal Exchange was an ideal venue for the story, with the actors and backstage crew swiftly moving around the beds (two singles that occasionally became a double) and audience members close to the characters. And while I felt that the play, at 85 minutes, was repetitive and overlong, the performances and the direction by John Wood kept me engaged.

Michael Byrne, who was never offstage, was an excellent Phil, moving backwards and forwards between ages that ranged from early teens to the 60s and showing in his words, expressions and body movements the feelings he had for the lovers at different times.

Oliver MacFadyen brought out the eagerness of his 14-year-old schoolmate, Kane, to do “the thing” with Phil, trying hard to get him onto a bed when they repeatedly skipped their school sports afternoon.

Pearl Nunn’s Daisy, a 19-year-old fellow university student who refuses to let go when she becomes infatuated with him, was genuinely passionate, gushingly talking about making him the subject of an art work shrine.

Linda Read’s wife, Grace, was pointedly unhappy about having to stay home to look after a child, telling Phil sternly that she was fed up with the infant waking up every morning at 4.37am.

Benjamin Louttit’s sharply observant party boy Drew gave him sensible advice, noting in a comment on his increasing weight that “You have no definition in your arms”, and delivering one surprise after another. The audience also got a shock surprise when Drew departed.

And Katy Carruthers’ Flo, the 50ish woman who became his late life partner, vibrantly delivered jokes that helped to ease his worries. When Phil, for example, asked her what she would do when he was gone, she replied, in a jolly manner, “Go to the pub.” But Flo’s jokes helped to brighten the increasingly ailing Phil’s life, and her affection for him came through in her words and voice.