When I did Boeing Boeing earlier this year, our director’s son emailed Mark Rylance to ask if he had any tips (Rylance had played Robert in West End and Broadway). We did indeed get a reply of “Don’t play for laughs. Play to terrify the audience about what might happen next.” I would like to add to this the genuine sense that each character really is ‘winging it’ and desperately trying to keep up with the pace of unfolding events. The Upstanding Member brings its fair share of terror.
The Right Honorable ____________ ______ MP has taken out a super-injunction against a young woman and when it turns out that she’s pregnant, he invites her to his second home on Christmas Eve to sort things out on the quiet. Add into this mix some unscrupulous journalists/thieves, his lawyer, his wife and another man all trapped in the same room and the tangle of fibs becomes ever more muddled. Playwright Gregory Skulnick’s typing fingers do seem to have run away with themselves at times, but when he reins them in, this is a cracking comedy full of lies, counter lies, mistaken identities and a light smattering of the sort of cheap laughs you can only get away with in farce.
The Man (Stephen Omer) is unapologetically pompous and quite happy to sort everything out with money. But prostitute Gloria (Kate Craggs) is refusing to be bought off quietly and wants to go public with her pregnancy. She treads a fine line between boldness and realising she may not actually get away with this after all. Sorting things out is made rather difficult with the arrival of his wife, Beatrice (Carole Street) whose unfazed facial expressions tell us that this is a woman who knows exactly what is going on, yet she seems to revel in playing along just to watch her husband squirm. His lawyer, Mr Graver (Ed Sheridan) cuts a desperate figure after all his hard work seems to have gone to waste overnight.
Alastair (Tim Dewberry) and Danny (Izaak Cainer) make a great double act as the pair of thieves who have to hide (slightly implausibly) behind a flag and coat when The Man comes home unexpectedly. But they find themselves listening in on the juiciest details of his infidelity and when they are discovered, they deftly overcomplicate matters by announcing themselves as lawyers defending either party against the other. A convoluted legal dispute begins which rapidly gets out of control, to hilarious effect, as neither The Man nor Gloria is prepared to admit the truth in front of his wife. There is a real feeling that all of them are thinking on their feet and making it up as they go along. A real challenge when this sort of comedy has to be rehearsed to precision.
This is a light-hearted bit of fun-poking into the world of politics, super-injunctions and the media, and you do begin to wonder “how are any of them going to get out of this?!”. At the point when we seem to be heading for a stalemate, there is thankfully a break in proceedings which unclutters the stage and gets the story over a hump (where I really thought we were going to start going over already-used material). There is room to tighten up the writing to make this really slick, but this is still an enjoyable laugh-out-loud comedy in one of London’s most intimate and quirky venues.
The Upstanding Member is on at The Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, London, EC1V 4NJ, until 4th January. This is a one-act play with no interval. For tickets and more information, go to http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/the-upstanding-member.htm