Martin Lingus is there to meet us, as we file into the theatre; smiling, dispensing programmes, singing tunelessly along to the music in the background. When the music stops and he begins to speak, we soon realise he has a particular eye for more mature ladies – and that he’s the type of man who’s only after one thing. But not that thing. Mr Lingus’s one true passion is architecture… and his near-erotic delight over period cornicing forms the cornerstone joke of this self-described “dark comedy”.
Mr Lingus is, in fact, a homeless drifter, whose predilection for eligible ladies is purely a means of keeping a roof over his head. There’s some effective humour in these early scenes – as we witness just how differently he and his temporary partners perceive their relationships, and slowly learn that he’s not especially capable “downstairs”. Eventually though, one of his reluctant hostesses devises a clever way to offload him onto someone else: increasing his appeal by teaching him a new skill, the one that’s suggested in the title.
And this is where it starts to go wrong for me, because there’s something about the plot which I can’t quite make sense of. By the time he receives his sex education, we’ve already seen Mr Lingus charm his way into three women’s homes – and stay in at least one of them for a number of years. So why is he suddenly so afraid of ending up on the streets? His opening monologue, an especially ugly study in misogyny, also sets him up as a character who’s difficult to like; I wanted to see him take a crashing fall, but I think we’re ultimately supposed to sympathise with him.
And Garry Freer’s performance, directed by Su Gilroy, is low-key to the point of being lifeless. He’s at his most charming at the very start, when he’s handing out those programmes; but from that point onwards he seems wilfully uncharismatic, in contrast to the magnetic figure the plot implies he must be. The delivery at times is painfully slow and even at the end, when we learn about the childhood humiliations which have defined his life, it’s almost devoid of emotion. Freer is clearly a capable actor, so this must be intentional, but I genuinely can’t see what it’s intended to achieve.
It’s only fair to point out that I, a thirty-something male, may not be quite the target audience for this particular show – and that while I’m by no means prudish, a lot of the visual humour was too explicit for my personal taste. But on the day I attended, the audience around me appeared equally bemused by much of what they saw.
The fixation on architecture is amusing, I enjoyed Sorcha Brooks’ cameos as a succession of girlfriends – and I do recognise that there’s something interesting about how the tables are turned on Mr Lingus, the way he’s emasculated by his intended targets’ sexual demands. But as a “dark comedy”, I just didn’t get it. Sorry.