There’s a lot to enjoy about this comic production, which engaged me right from the start with both characters and storyline. The date is 1966, and we see Ethel (Charlotte Weston) and Phyllis (Kellie Batchelor) in their dressing room, discussing the very last episode of Werewolf Hall – a long-running soap opera they have starred in for years. It seems that there is a shock twist planned for the finale, and Ethel isn’t happy about it at all. Cue Rupert (Johnny Freeman), who is equally disgruntled, and struggling to accept he may not have a future career after the show is over. The premise of the play within a play evolves, and we witness the soap going out live on TV to a claimed audience of twenty-two million.
Within the soap, Weston as Lady Cordelia was great in her caustic delivery, while Batchelor as her love interest – the gushing but earnest Lady Di – was equally charismatic. The women's very clipped BBC accent, matched to over-the-top, stilted acting, was hilarious to watch. Freeman adds to this farcical trio in the role of the bumbling Carlito, reminding me a little of both Manuel from Faulty Towers and Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques; the quick-fire dialogue between the three soap characters evolves brilliantly.
Credit is due to writer Lee Mattinson for some absolutely hilarious one-liners, which the actors deliver with dead-pan poker faces as the plot unfolds. We discover that most of the village residents have been killed by a bubonic plague, started by the “prize winning baker who went for a poo and forgot to wash his hands”. Farcical tongue-in-cheek lines are used skilfully, and stage directions given by the characters after the action has taken place add to the ridiculousness of the action.
But there were a couple of moments that didn't sit so comfortably for me. The extremely sweary opening felt a little unnecessary, and slightly incongruous for this particular style of show. And unfortunately, I found the split-focus dialogue at the end of the play quite difficult to follow. I felt that something got lost here; the concluding dialogue between the two women had the potential to be really powerful, and although I think I understood the intent of mixing it together with Rupert’s story, the combination didn't quite work for me.
Nonetheless, I left feeling thoughtful about how the world has moved on in the past 50 years, and how the courage of a few back then have made a difference for so many people today. People sharing the “love that dared not speak its name” need no longer be Sellotaped together by shame. And for that alone, the show has my “eggy blessings”, for sure.