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Gender comedy left me with Mixed Feelings



Review by David Munro

MIXED Feelings is described, in the programme, as a comedy. I would have described it as a farce without fun.

Vernon (Paul Nicholas), a middle-aged accountant, has just returned from an unexplained six months absence from home.

Jan, his wife (Mary Tamm), demands an explanation only to be told that Vernon is no longer a man, having undergone a sex change.

Vernon is persuaded to keep this secret, as his daughter is about to get married, but, by the second act, which takes place three weeks later, he has fully assumed his new sexuality and from thereon in, the play degenerates into an extended revue sketch.

His best friend, Eddie (John Benfield), wants to marry him, having apparently been in love with Vernon all the time.

A fact of which Karen (Carol Holt), Eddie’s wife, was aware and had tried to counter by making love to Vernon, which resulted in the first act curtain, when she discovers what he has lost.

His daughter, Zoë (Sarah McCardie), who had been a free-thinker,and whom Vernon had relied on to support him, shrilly rejects him.

Butcher (Alan Granville), his boss, ensures that he is promoted, as to discriminate against transsexuals would be politically incorrect, but demands that, on future business trips, they travel as man and wife. Finally, Jan reveals that she is a lesbian and that, at last, she is able to fancy him - a fact for which Vernon points out, he is not yet ready for, thereby bringing the play to its inconclusive ending.

For moments during the first act, I had thought the author, Eric Chappell, might have intended to explore the despair and frustration of a woman trapped in a man’s body and the desperation which makes him/her submit to the operation.

But any hopes I had in this respect were soon dashed, as it became apparent that the situation was to be milked for all the smutty remarks and adolescent humour that could be forced into the two hours the play ran.

Even the dilemma of Eddie torn between his desire for respectability and his love for his best friend degenerated into schoolboy humour, centring on a pair of pants, which played a tune when the wearer was sexually aroused.

A pity, as the situation, stripped of all the leering sexual innuendo’s, between him and Vernon, could have made an interesting and moving play.

In a programme note, it is indicated that this is a play about mid-life crisis, which is belied by the text, which makes it clear, from the outset, that Vernon had always felt he wanted to be a woman, and had only now found the courage to accept his true gender.

If that is a symptom of middle-aged crisis, it is going to be a strange future for the human race, assuming every man adopts Vernon’s cure for it.

It says a lot for the director, Jeremy Meadow, and the cast, that they are able to make this potentially distasteful plot amusing and light-hearted.

Paul Nicholas plays Vernon/Verna with panache, although one could not really believe that he was a woman at heart.

One expected him, when in drag, to come out with a ‘Wotcha Mates /Danny La Rue’-type remark at any moment.

As his wife, Mary Tamm cross-dressed convincingly in male attire, and gave amusing outbursts of horror as her husband’s revelations grew more grotesque.

John Benfield did his best as the mixed-up, golf-playing best friend with an adolescent sense of humour and one felt he could have done more with the part had it been fleshed out a bit.

Alan Granville, Carol Holt and Sarah McCardie extracted what humour there was from their parts without distracting attention too much from the principals.

The audience, as a whole, seemed to get enjoyment out of the farcical goings on, but there were one or two, like me, who were not so impressed, and viewed the proceedings with very mixed feelings; which is, in fact, a very good title for a not very good end-of-the-pier farce.

Mixed Feelings, by Eric Chappell. Director, Jeremy Meadow; Designer, Michael Holt; Costume Designer, Rueven Britten; Lighting, Philip Gladwell; Sound, Tom Lishman.
WITH: Paul Nicholas; Mary Tamm; John Benfield; Alan Granville; Carol Holt; Sarah McCardie.
Producer, TEG Productions. Richmond Theatre, The Little Green, Richmond, Surrey.
Monday, May 10 - Saturday, May 15, 2004. Evenings: Mon – Sat 7.45pm; Mat: Wed & Sat 2.30pm. Box Office: 020 8940 0088.

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