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REVIEW: Sex And The Three Day Week/Liverpool Playhouse

Fast pace leaves the laughs lagging behind in scouse-tinged French farce

Written by . Published on December 13th 2014.

REVIEW: Sex And The Three Day Week/Liverpool Playhouse

AS most of us are struggling around the shops looking for that last-minute festive gift, it's not uncommon to see posters advertising assorted pantos, carol services and craft fairs around town. But, like the rest of the Christmas dinner, pudding and drinks, you can have too much of a good thing. 

So, as an antidote, the Liverpool Playhouse has broken with tradition: a "raucous alternative" in the shape of Stephen Sharkey's Sex and the Three Day Week - a scouse adaptation of Georges Feydeau's farce L'Hotel du Libre Echange.

Directed by Serdar Bilis, last seen at the Everyman with Jeff Young's Bright Phoenix, it's knockabout stuff.

The setting is Liverpool and the petty-bourgeoisie suburban McManaman household of the 1970s. It is inhabited by repressed Philip (Edward Harrison) and feisty Angela (Natalie Casey). Next-door neighbours are the Ballards with doormat Catherine (Catrin Aaron) and work-possessed Robert (David Birrell) who make full use of the always-unlocked side door for impromptu entrances and exits.

Sex And The Three Day Week At Liverpool Playhouse %28C%29 Topher Mcgrillis_239Pictures: Topher Mcgrillis

Add to this are randy French maid Fanny (Lucy Phelps) and male-feminist cool dude Ben Ballard (Robin Morrisey). In terms of the goings-on, try to imagine a crossover between The Likely Lads and Brian Rix, where much of the typically British, perhaps MacGill-inspired 1970s humour raises its head when there's nothing to look forward to under the covers except World In Action and an orthopaedic bed. 

Within this quartet lie the seeds of eventual misdoings. The knawing pangs of Phillip's unrequited passion for airhead neighbour Catherine emerge and, through a manic set of domestic disharmonies, they agree to seek illicit retribution through a tryst made in Heaven or, in this case, a tawdry, flock-papered, Hotel Paradise run by an obsequious Spanish manager Sebastian (Javier Marzan). His contributions were as good as any oversize pepper-mill, even more so with house-hooker Holly whose description of the context of the energy crisis was worthy of a Ph.D.  

As it happened, their plans not only unwound but positively fall apart, helped on with good measure by the arrival of a ghostbuster, a Ken Dodd talking minah bird, snakes in the bed and a swoop from the Vice Squad. These scenes drew heavily on Monty Python for inspiration which writer Sharkey freely admits to. It certainly went some way to explain why the promised sex in the title remained just that. 

Overall, it was well-acted with some good one-liners while recreating a 1970s atmosphere in all its tank-top and Yorkstone fireplace glory. 

Yet, certain elements didn’t seem to work as originally intended in the script, notably Miss Mayhew’s (Eileen O’Brien) spoonerisms dialogue, repeats of jokes about cutting up candles for sale at the counter and confusion over whether David Birrell was playing Robert Ballard or the ghostbuster.

At times the pace went too fast to let the dialogue sink in and any laughs to come through, although the farcical situations made up for that to some extent.

But credit must go to Hannah Clark for her imaginative set designs and to Liverpool-born mime artist Les Bubb for directing the physical manoeuvres of the ensemble. Their contributions were, without doubt, an essential factor in getting the timing and mise-en-scene just right.


*Sex And The Three Day Week, Liverpool Playhouse, until January 10.

Catrin Aaron As Catherine Ballard%26#38%3BJavier Marzan As Sebastian In Sexandthethreedayweek %28C%29Topher Mcgrillis_137

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Peter Coyle

i wish i had been there…it sounds like something joyous and anarchic...the way the article is…

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Couldn't agree more. This is a super piece. Ken would be proud that not a penny of public money was…

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