Review by Paul Nelson
ROBERT William Sherwood is probably the best writer I have ever met other than JB Priestley. Like Priestley, he is a fastidious man for plotting and working out his plays to the last degree. Also like JB he has an ear for authenticity.
He regularly is nominated by Time Out for a Critics' Choice mention, and four of the plays he has written have been premiered at the White Bear Theatre Club in Kennington.
It was there that I asked him, why, as a playwright whose work is seriously considered abroad, New York's off-Broadway, Canada, California, Chicago, what moves him to prefer to see that his work is to be heard here first.
Rather disarmingly, his simple answer was that he loves it here, has made his home here and prefers a back room in a seedy pub to a Broadway opening. Dramatic words indeed, but said to me with such a gleam of faith in his eyes that I had to believe him.
His latest offering, affectionately known as The B Play; Broads, Bourbon, Bullets, and Betrayal is, naturally, being premiered at The White Bear and after seeing the wondrous Pulling at the Landor Theatre recently, it is almost fabulous for me to be able to report that here again there is a play to die for.
It is basically a play about deceit. It begins with the hero (?) a seedy, down at heel gumshoe, lying to his wife. Jack (dare I say earnestly?) tells his wife he is merely exhausted after staking out a suspect all night. She, a uniformed cop, doesn't believe him.
From then on, in a series of vignettes, scene follows scene in which the possibility of the existence of true love is argued for and against. Lesbians, misogyny, and ultimate betrayal are presented with both glee and a seriousness that could make your eyes water. In short, the play is a knockout.
Deceit is the main thrust, and it gives the four actors such an incandescent
opportunity to strut their stuff, that, whilst watching it, the mind boggles.
The chances for the actors are so brilliantly expounded that you would swear everyone had been there at the inception of the play.
That this could not have happened is apparent. You are in the presence of
a master, playwright, not a pen-pusher who is hoping his cast will get him
out of a hole.
Which, not so surprisingly, brings me to his cast.
Kerry Shale (Jack), is so perfect you want the play to go on and on. His drunken utterance of the word 'women!' is so vehement, so sincere, so funny yet so dramatic, that any red blooded man could be easily forgiven for leaving the theatre and shooting a female - if he had a gun, that is. The word, as uttered by Shale, must still be ringing around the streets and buildings of Kennington Park. Which brings us nicely round to the bullets.
It also, by the way, brings us to the bourbon.
Presumably, when drunk, any suggestion as an answer to your problem seems rational. Which comes first, the nightmare or the hangover?
I won't dwell on that. Rather let me discuss the brilliant Kerry Shale, who is backed up by Robert Ashe, an actor I have not seen since the old La Bonne Crepe days (that was a super supper theatre club in Battersea Park Road).
Ashe always impressed me in that he never looked as though he was acting,
I always felt I was an eavesdropper, so cool and intimate were his performances.
Here he is given a fantastic opportunity to display that confidentiality of
which he has since quite obviously become a master. To overhear him discuss
his opinion of women, although he is definitely not an admirer, is to make
you shudder. The comic aspect is nothing shorter than sensational.
This character, with his worldly wise outlook, in the hands of Ashe has another existence, one that isn't all on the stage but one you are certain is deceiving other people and beguiling them.
Robert Ashe, make no mistake, is pure Shaftesbury Avenue. Catch him on the
cheap, so to speak. He is as sensational as is Kerry Shale.
These two are not left high and dry. Barbara Barnes, as Carol, the wife of the gumshoe, is so cool the temperature of the auditorium noticeably lowers.
It raises again with the performance of Imogen Walker as Janice, the other woman, in more senses than one. These two deceivers raise the lesbian aspect of the story. Or is it? Deceit is the order of the day, and Sherwood here is very deceitful, and delightfully so. Robert William Sherwood is too clever, and in this joke, he pulls the wool over our eyes and makes us both scared and amused.
The play was originally conceived as part of a double bill. Praise be that it can just as easily stand on its own. When are West End managements going to get their act together and stop giving us pap from successes of other countries (safe, safe!), musicals that depend on tourists, or, as in the case of the National, give us musicals that any management with guts would put on all by himself?
If they knew their onions plays like The B Play would be on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Let us not worry about that, let us rather rejoice that we can catch such
excellent work at bargain basement prices.
The B Play is superb entertainment and should not be missed. It is obviously going to get all sorts of accolades and will appear elsewhere, so why not patronise the White Bear and help to ensure that this kind of drama will be perpetuated?