THE WOMAN WHO COOKED HER HUSBAND
by Debbie Isitt
directed by Carolanne Connolly
Blackburn Drama Club
I had only ever read this play by Debbie Isitt, so it was with somewhat mixed feelings I visited the Thwaites Empire Theatre to see Blackburn Drama Club’s presentation. And what a revelation this presentation proved to be. It was, to use a cliché, a knock-out. It was very, very funny and in front of a large first night audience, proved to be a first-rate production. It is not often that audiences spontaneously break into applause in the middle of scenes, but on this night, they did.
A review in The Times really does sum it up: “My compliments to the chef for a riveting evening”.
Kenneth and Hilary have been married for nineteen years, but as middle age approaches, Kenneth finds himself in the arms of another woman. But this little fling soon gets out of hand and we become witness to an entertaining exploration of jealousy, humiliation, deceit and betrayal giving an entirely new meaning to the adage, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
Whilst the play is performed in real time, we are also treated to a series of flashbacks, all leading to the final explosive ending. Economy of language is always a measure of good writing and the mundane existence of Hilary and Kenneth’s existence is summed up in very few lines. For example;
“Hilary: Have a good day at work
Kenneth: Will do.
Hilary: See you at five.
Kenneth: Bye now. (the door slams) Darling, I’m home.
Hilary: Did you have a good day?
Kenneth: I’m exhausted
Hilary: Dinner’s nearly ready”
With variations this scene, and the speed with which it was delivered, was breath-taking in its simplicity but really did highlight Kenneth’s mid-life crisis.
The success of any play depends on a) the writing, b) the direction and c) an excellent cast, and with The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband we had all three.
Kenneth was played by Steven Derbyshire. This aging teddy boy, with a passion for Elvis Presley, was a very successful portrayal of a man not willing to confront his future and who would cling to his youth as long as he could. Never still, in his brothel creepers, draped jacket and rock ‘n’ roll mullet, this was an excellent portrayal of a man torn between his heart and his stomach.
His wife of nineteen years of marriage was Hilary, played by Joanne Shepherd. This was one of the finest performances I have seen for a long time. Joanne became Hilary, ranging from the meek little housewife looking after her loving husband, to the scheming, “I’ll get my own back” abandoned wife. Always in command of her own destiny, except when deliberately being the meek little wifey, made us be always on her side, and we wanted what she wanted, too. For me, there were echoes of Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served in the style of the walk, to the little hints of Hylda Baker. But these hints were never more than that, a hint. A superb performance.
The third party in this triangle was Laura, played as a femme fatale by Neely Jillings. First as Kenneth’s affair, and then as his wife, Neely’s role of the “can’t cook, won’t clean” other woman was an excellent portrayal. Flaunting herself at every opportunity to engage with Kenneth, always in command of the situation she found herself in, and never afraid to show her true feelings, we came to believe should would stop at nothing to get what she wanted.
Each character had its own story to tell but it was when the paths crossed that the action really flared. This meant that each character had to hold the audience with a soliloquy and then immediately become part of the unfolding story.
The author’s suggestion that the play should be served up at a fast, furious pace with savage emotional input, clear fast thought changes and an innocence that keeps the play alive and real, was what we had. But there were also inspirational personal touches created by the company, too. With a nod to the acting style of the early 1920s, but never going too far, the guiding hand of the director, Carolanne Connolly, was the inspiration behind this wonderful theatrical presentation.
With only three chairs and a table that would split in two, the action moved between two houses, those of Hilary and of Laura. There were no props which meant that everything needed had to be mimed.
To hold the attention of an audience for nearly two hours meant that everyone, and everything on stage had to work. And it did.
Throughout the play, and to highlight the emotional storyline, the music of Elvis Presley songs became integral to the storyline. Used sparingly, they also served to create the right humour for the scene in which they were being played. The many lighting and sound cues were very well executed.
I congratulate the company on creating another wonderful night at the theatre, one I shall remember for all the right reasons for a long time.
Thank you for your very warm hospitality.