Thursday, June 21, 2007
“Please, keep off the grass,” said the rather stern usher as we filed into the Cottesloe auditorium. Now, these are not words you usually hear as you enter a theatre, but the National obviously had a bit of turf left over from covering the flytower with the stuff, as there was indeed grass – a whole suburban garden in fact had been assembled, complete with plastic paddling pool and patio furniture.
This was the set for Matt Charman’s new play The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder, a knotty but involving comedy about polygamy. Well polyamory actually, as the play takes pains to point out that nothing illegal is going on, but nonetheless this is very unusual family set up. Maurice is a Lewisham scaffolder who lives with Esther, Fay and Lydia, as well as Fay’s son Vincent and Lydia’s baby Fergus. On every other level this is a normal family, they have their rules, their quirks and their customs (big family dinner every Tuesday and so forth) and their domestic arrangements, though idiosyncratic, seem to work just fine for them.
Even the arrival of a fourth woman, Rowena, young, pregnant and just out of an abusive relationship, doesn’t appear to rock the boat too much. Charman is an engaging writer and he succeeds in making the Pinders into a plausible family unit; you can believe in the way these women interact with one another (despite the fact they have a rota for who has, um, bedroom duties with Maurice on any given night), and while I thought the character of free-spirited Reiki healer Lydia was a dip too far into the cliché-cupboard, the relationship between the older women, Esther and Fay, was very well sketched.
Having made a semi-convincing case for this kind of lifestyle, Charman then turns things upside down in the second half, with the arrival of sensible, cardigan-clad office manager Irene. This is a wife too far for the other women and the careful balance of their family is upset. Ultimately Charman’s position seems to be that such relationships are appealing but untenable, though he takes a rather muddled road to reach this conclusion.
Still, this is a fresh and often very funny piece of writing, that as they say “raised some interesting questions”, about love, about commitment, and so forth. Though, having said that, I was never able to fathom exactly what it was about Maurice that was supposed to make him so irresistible – something of a crucial drawback.
Anyway, I eschewed my interval gin to watch the set dressers at work – a process that was actually rather fascinating. A whole brick wall was built and there was one girl running around with a watering can to give the set a just rained-on look. Not quite worth skipping the gin for, but interesting to watch all the same.