Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – until 8 April 2017
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Ding-Dong (A Bit of a Farce), the first offering in the new series of A Play, A Pie and A Pint at the Traverse, has its heart in the right place and provides some laughs, but ultimately fails to convince either as a farce or as a more conventional comedy. Hilary Lyon’s script, as the title suggests, does include farcical elements – but these, rather than being built up to in the traditional manner, are dispensed with surprisingly early in proceedings.
The majority of the play is taken up with an ultimately directionless clash between neighbours – Gail Watson’s Jennifer, all social climbing and first world problems, and Lyon’s more liberal Susie. It seems that the characters are going to become more complex and interesting than the types they first appear, but this never really happens. Instead, it takes on the air of an episode of a mediocre sit-com, complete with plot developments that are clearly signposted well in advance and – in Susie’s ditzy New Ager sister Chrissie – a character television executives would have rejected as an obvious and tired stereotype twenty years ago.
The dated appearance of much of it is a shame – until the word ‘Instagram’ is mentioned, there is little to suggest this is the 21st century. Particularly as it touches on concerns that could be ultra-topical, such as how the very word ‘liberal’ seems to be turning into an insult to hurl at the ‘metropolitan elite’ in this country as it has been in the USA for so long, when over here it at least used to signal a degree of empathy.
Instead, there is a definite lack of bite, with the biggest question on the audience’s mind being exactly what part of Morningside it takes place in, what with the woods at the end of the garden and a highly-regarded high school at the end of the road.
There is certainly considerable humour in Lyon’s script, even if the piece struggles for consistency and Morag Fullarton’s direction strains too hard for comic effect. This is hardly necessary, when Lyon, the ever-reliable Watson, Claire Waugh (in the thankless role of Chrissie), and Buchan Lennon as Susie’s son Mikey all display considerable timing and energy.
There are glimmers of something much more interesting. The opening sequence, a more impressionistic series of monologues or snatched half-conversations, hints at a more inventive tale than the one that follows; later, Waugh’s cameo as a mumbling delivery driver provides more laughs in a couple of minutes than most of the rest of the production. Intriguing questions about how those with the most choice are often those who complain the most vociferously, are raised and quickly forgotten about.
In the end, it is just too cosy, and too slight even for such a short piece. All of the tonal problems would be forgotten if it built up into the chiming, frenetic farce the title promises – but it cannot make up its mind whether it wants to be stupid or clever, and in the end manages to be neither.