Theatre - Make Mine a Double: Fry and Ley RUTH HARGREAVES


Matthew Burton in Latin! Or Tobacco and Boys

Photograph: Adam Spreadbury-Maher

This comedy double bill, produced by theatre company Good Night Out Presents (GNOP), is simultaneously refreshing and intoxicating and demonstrates that the relatively young Cock Tavern Theatre group is well worth considering for a night out off the beaten track. GNOP began in August 2008 and in January 2009 took advantage of the intimate upstairs room at The Cock Tavern by transforming it into The Cock Tavern Theatre. In their own words, they are committed to directing talent as well as ‘seeking out and providing a platform for tomorrow’s leading playwrights’. This performance of Stephen Fry’s Latin! Or Tobacco And Boys and the world premiere of Duncan Ley’s Last Drinks fall both neatly and precisely into these two categories without a hint of amateurship.

Written in 1980, Latin! Or Tobacco And Boys is a testimony to the longevity of Stephen Fry’s penchant and talent for creating satirical tales of debauchery and dissolution presented with an unusual finesse. Set in a 1970s prep school, the unlikely coupling of a crucifix and a giant tub of Vaseline on the young school master’s desk is a rather clear indication of the exploitations to come.

The school master, Dominic (Matthew Burton) aims to become the new headmaster, yet his plans are scuppered when his rival senior colleague, Brookshaw (Mark White) discovers his ‘after-school activities’ with a young pupil. Blackmail and sexual deviancy ensue as Brookshaw decides not to denounce his colleague and instead leaves Dominic with no other alternative but to enter into an ‘arrangement’ with him in return for his silence (we are spared the exact details of this arrangement, suffice to say it involves crunchy peanut butter and a bicycle pump). However, not all goes to plan and soon Brookshaw is forced to explain to a class of adolescent boys why their teacher and fellow pupil have suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. 

This two-man show addresses what is essentially a hugely serious misuse of authority with humour and humanity. Primarily, this feat is down to the union of clever writing from Fry with some inspired acting by Burton and White.  In the first scene, Dominic is the quintessential frustrated teacher; teaching a language he loves to children who couldn’t care less. The fact that the audience unwittingly plays the part of the berated delinquents only serves to make the character all the more empathetic as he battles dissatisfaction with humorous resignation and acceptance. Brookshaw positively exudes irony as his straight-laced exterior is underpinned by a barely-suppressed tendency towards sexual sadism. Littered with innuendos, Latin! Or Tobacco And Boys makes no qualms about its smut. Brookshaw’s changing t’s to f’s when writing out how bad behaviour causes a decrease in ‘tuck’ privileges further reduces the audience into the role of sniggering children and where disgust should reign, delight takes over.

However, any frivolity is short-lived as in the second half of this double-billing, Duncan Ley justifies his position as a resident playwright at The Cock and Tavern Theatre by producing Last Drinks. In an East End pub, four seasoned drinkers attempt to comprehend their own existence and remember the route by which they arrived there. The mysterious ‘wind’ outside seems to have obliterated everything they once knew and faced with the prospect of forgetting it all (and perhaps themselves), they grapple with the memories that remain in order to stave off the looming existential void.

Last Drinks is incredibly dense and poses more questions than answers, yet its comedy value is wonderfully intertwined with this absurdity. Barely able to remember their pasts, Portoz and Stout (Peter James and Fanos Xenophos) are endearingly naïve characters whose comic simplicity balances the philosophical weight brought by the landlady, Venus (Mark White) and ‘Old Man’ Mead (Michael Grinter). If deliveries come on a Monday and there hasn’t been a delivery for two years, can it still be Monday? Is it true that Nothing changes Anything? Such are the questions posed causing both characters and audience to teeter precariously on the edge of understanding.

The purgatorial setting in Last Drinks is the perfect accompaniment to its wonderfully dark humour, and happily nestles in beside the more brazen approach of Latin! Or Tobacco And Boys. The combination is entertaining, provoking, and at two for the price of one, it’s also a good deal.


For more information and to book tickets, please click here.               





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