This play is God's gift to women - and they flaunt it!

Review by Paul Nelson

THE Finborough public house, home to Steam Industry these many years, has changed hands and the new owners have assured that the theatre will remain. Meanwhile they are refurbishing the entire premises, which means the bars are closed giving an entirely new meaning to the term 'pub theatre' in that there is no pub.

Whatever disruption this has made to the rehearsals and staging of The Very Nearly Love Life of My Friend Paul I can only guess at, but it must have been significant because I have never seen a production so obviously labouring under outside forces.

Strange hiatuses took place on the press night, and with all the sympathy in the world, they must be discounted.

What we are left with is a very amusing evening as Paul, the bird fancier in extremis, ploughs his way through a galaxy of beautiful birds, taking them almost all the way to the altar and funking it at the last minute.

The play is a series of sketches each dealing with Paul's latest infatuation, each girl different, each girl so attractive it is hard to ignore them. They range from the downright common to the ultimate upper crust in Paul's eyes, and with every sketch the audience hugged itself with glee.

The play thus gives to its female members a fantastic range of characters to play, and here I have to get back to what I seem to be repeating endlessly these days. There is so much talent around that we Brits should throw up a world star roughly every other week.

It is your choice to which of the girls you prefer. There are only two and they play all the female roles. The play is God's gift to women and Mesdames Marie-Claire Turley and Sandra Huggett don't half take their chance and flaunt it. They are brilliant.

The chaps have a tougher time. Both are appealing characters, both are excellent actors and both get their laughs as and when. However, they remain foils for the girls.

Paul continues on his insouciant way, the envy of every other male, and Matt has a tragedy in his life which unfolds during the action.

The play has its shortcomings, it predictably gets serious, and I couldn't believe there would be no sting in its tail. When it proved there wasn't one I found it disappointing.

Paul does eventually conform, and I for one don't believe it, the character is too strongly drawn and leopards don't change their spots. If the play has some message to get across, it singularly fails so to do.

Still, in the presence of such a mountain of talent and laughs I didn't really care but I don't think it too much to ask for a beginning, a middle and an end, here you get only a beginning and a middle.

The outstanding talent in the show remains embodied in the girls. Any audience would go wild at the sight of these two, dressed in so many telling outfits that Ilona Karas (costumes) deserves an award all to herself.

It remains that all these things do not make a play, they set up a situation.

It is a situation that holds the audience and amuses it, so for that it deserves praise. So far, I have to report it seems to be a template for something much larger, and much more funny and telling.

As the building works at the Finborough wane, and the play waxes, I would suggest you go. You will certainly be entertained, but like an unfinished meal, there are no afters.

NB. The photograph features Adam Smethurst (ex of TV's Casualty fame) with cast members while the production was touring in Edinburgh.

The Very Nearly Love Life Of My Friend Paul by Adam Smethurst, Directed by Phil Setren, Set Design Simon Kenny, Lighting Design Peter Harrison, Costume Design Ilona Karas. WITH: David Conolly (Matt), Adam Smethurst (Paul), Marie-Clare Turley (Blackpool Lass/Mel/Carmen/Gail), Sandra Huggett (Paula/Charlotte/Sandl/Caroline/Yelena/Sara), Jack Smethurst (Voice of registrar), Harold Finley (Voice of Chaplain/DJ). Produced by London New Play Festival and Rainrose Entertainment at The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10. Tickets 020 7373 3842.