Gym & Tonic
By John Godber
5th, 6th, 8th, 9th March 2019
Directed by Andrew Hamel-Cooke and Moyra Brookes
“This is a play that is true to the Godber formula of humour with a healthy helping of comment on life. It is a bitter sweet kind of formula. We see elements of human frailty and confusion cleverly blended with line after line of humour.
The opening scene showed us the aerobic class at a chic spa hotel. The energy and synchronisation were sharp and exhausting to watch. The late arrival of Don Weston (Jason Spiller) provided us with the first of many “I’ve been there” moments. His total ineptitude was hilarious. He wasn’t able to grasp what the class was doing, couldn’t get the rhythm of the exercise and finally collapsed in a heap when the lesson came to an end. Don was obviously not enjoying this holiday.
His wife Shirley (Nikky Kirkup) on the other hand, was throwing herself into everything in which she could participate. They were the two faces of mid-life crises.
Shirley wanted to make the most of this huge de-stressing investment. She chattered with the overzealous, too chirpy, ‘I can push myself further’ character, Ken Blake (John Want.) She clearly wished her husband had Ken’s energy and positivity.
As Don and Shirley work their way through all that Scardale Hall has to offer, we see their relationship almost unravel.
Another staying at the spa was Gertrude Tate (Judy Abbott) who was an Ann Widdecombe kind of character who doled out oodlings of superior comment and very poor advice. She almost brought about the complete collapse of the Weston marriage. The larger than life character of Gertrude filled the stage with every entry. Her articulation was very good and her sense of character was well considered. A very consistent performance which added considerably to the comic value of any scenes in which she was involved.
There were some excruciatingly funny moments. Amongst those were Don’s first massage. His reluctance to strip down especially when he thought he would have to take off his underpants was hilarious! Funnier still was the second massage when he stripped down with greater confidence, only to find that he was having just his face massaged. During this third massage he relaxes to the point where he fantasises about the pressures in his life, also extremely funny. This was cleverly achieved by a pre-recorded video which was projected onto the screen. This was hugely effective.
Again in the squash game scene the lighting of the squash court added realism to the pretend game.
Don’s performance developed until he reached his crisis. He was more stressed than when he had first arrived, but now it seems at least he was able to express it. His final moments gained our sympathy absolutely and Shirley did what we spent the whole play hoping she would do, and cradled the overstressed Don in her arms.
Shirley’s character blossomed in those last scenes. It was a thoughtful and well-timed performance. She became a character in whom we could really believe.
The over energetic Ken Blake (John Want) provided a great foil for the less sporty Don. He was annoyingly competitive. His final coup was to win at squash against the Hall’s resident coach. The pace was kept up throughout.
The minor role of the Bellboy (Ieuan Want) offered little opportunity but he made the most of it when he could as did Shaun (Josh Locke) the very young chap who was “relaxing” before doing his A levels. His acerbic repartee was well handled and again it was not a huge role so difficult to do a great deal with it.
The aerobics teacher Zoë (Cheryl Chamberlain) was physically excellent and added real energy to the piece.
The masseuse, Chloë (Ella Kay) was wonderfully pan faced throughout Don’s embarrassing “should I strip off?” scene. Her declaration “today is only the face,” was wonderfully timed to give maximum comic effect. Her change of character to the uninhibited seductress in the fantasy scene was excellent.
The sets, always a feature of excellence at the Nomads, was slick and effective. (I loved the brief acknowledgement of the garden scene in Twelfth Night ). The stagehands were very swift and neat in executing the scene changes.
My congratulations to Andrew Hamel-Cooke and Moyra Brookes on their first collaboration on direction. I look forward to seeing more of their work together.”