A superb comedy with a serious twist in the tale

Review by Paul Nelson

THE Chelsea Theatre
, an altogether splendid place, though many of its patrons look as though they are appearing in something or other, has a policy of encouraging and promoting good writing.

There is no finer flag for them to unfurl than the two one act plays currently on offer.

Bill and Esme, apart from being a splendid vehicle for its four actors, is a super night out, has food for thought, and is at all times both a joy to watch and a script to chew over.

Of the first play, I can only say it is a superb comedy, even though it has a serious twist in the tail. Line after line crashes into the delighted audience sending both shock waves and howls of laughter.

The Bill Cantor Story tells of an over the hill music hall turn who has had a series on television but whose ratings are falling and the TV company has decided he has to be axed.

In favour of what?

When the girl who is to star in the replacement show arrives, she discovers Bill, and she, a Turner prizewinner, decides he would be the perfect foil for her arty show, keeping a down to earth finger on the audience pulse.

What has not been thought through is that Bill is an individual, unlike the audiences the TV company reaches out to daily. The result is a hilariously funny comedy with an ending that made me rock with delight.

The second half of this delightful bill is Esme and Louise, a story of family feuding.

With three generations in one house, Louise it is feared, is a drug taker, her boy friend a pusher. In Nelson, Lancashire?

The over protective father becomes heavy handed with his daughter and her fella and as the situation deteriorates matters have to be solved by the matriarch grandmother, already smarting from the debacle of her buffet dinner party. She breaks up the arguments with a pistol, souvenir of the war. I would not have been surprised if she had used it with live ammo and despatched the squabbling members of her family.

Politesse prevents me from giving away any more of the plots of these two plays but I can reveal that together they comprise one of the better nights out at the theatre.

The cast is perfect.

Maria Charles, it seems to me that everything I love about the theatre has this actress in it, is truly magnificent both as the dying agent of the music hall comic, and as Grandma Esme, spying on the neighbours she swears are running a hot car racket.

A real find for me was Mike Burns as the music hall comic and the father of Louise. This man has the face of a Bert Lahr. It is a bendy toy with which he can do anything. His liquid eyes convey humour, hurt, pity, anger and anything else he would wish them to show. Sublime is the word that springs to mind.

Neither can you overlook Daniel Coonan as the TV exec Thom and the boyfriend Steven, nor Helen Murton as a repellent Vanessa Feltz type and a loyal and loving daughter striving for her own independence and personality.

By now, you will have gathered that the evening is not to be missed.

Adam Pernak, a writer I am not the first to laud, must be sleeping peacefully with this smashing exposition of his plays. Serious themes, he proves conclusively, can be treated with humour and intelligence as well as sympathy. Treat yourself to a good night out.

Bill & Esme, two one act plays by Adam Pernak. Directed by Sarah Esdaile, Designed (including video design) by Matt Atwood, Lighting Design by Natasha Chivers, Sound designed by Marco Centore. WITH Mike Burns (Bill, Alan), Maria Charles (Mrs Waters, Esme), Daniel Coonan (Thom, Steven), Helen Murton (Sarah, Louise). Presented by Chelsea Theatre, Worlds End Place, London SW10. 020 7352 1967.