28 August 2023
First performed in the 1960s and then regularly during the 1970s, ‘The Mating Game’ is one of a plethora of ‘sex’ comedies from that era; this one concerning a successful TV talk show host whose amorous couplings never reach their longed-for conclusion. As he tries to finally lose his virginity with his latest amour, plenty of other matters get in the way of his chances of success.
This is tricky territory these days and much of the comedy of the theatre, TV and film from those decades have not aged well and much is deemed unacceptable; my suspicion is that director, Jason Moore, has made a few judicious cuts to the script; sad to say, it is so dire that maybe the red pen should have been taken to every word of it. The plotline is feeble and the laughs are sparse.
All credit therefore to Moore and his cast who gasp the nettle with both hands and run with it. For all the lack of a decent script there is much to admire. The penthouse flat belonging to the central character, Draycott Harris, is a confection in cream and full of gadgets – revolving walls, beds which slide away at the touch of a button, wardrobes which move back and forth… knowing the lack of room on the Manor Pavilion stage, this is a masterpiece of design by Andrew Beckett and brings great amusement.
In a role which could repel, Tom Mann skilfully ensures the warmth of the audience as Draycott Harris; a lovable rogue with a likeable vulnerability. Mann has displayed a consummate aptitude for comedy at Sidmouth this year which has been a joy to watch. Jimmy Chamberlain is a wonderful ball of energy giving great momentum to the play as the daft, long lost brother to the TV host. Holly Ashman, as PR Assistant/love interest, Honey Tooks, is effortlessly seductive and her comic timing is spot on. As Julia Carrington, Draycott’s secretary, Katherine Dodds is wonderfully repressed and het up before turning seductress. Emily Outred has the very best of the lines as housekeeper, Mrs Finney; her delivery and physical comedy combined is something to be enjoyed and admired.
A few anachronisms appear throughout; for a play set in the 1960s (some of the female characters costumes seem to confirm this) I question the references to Nigella Lawson and Cindy Crawford, I think I heard ‘ecstasy’ mentioned, a word coined for the drug MDMA in the 1980s, and was that ‘Staying Alive’ by the Bee Gees playing at one point – a song released in 1977?
Jason Moore does all he can with the material in front of him and the cast work their socks off trying to squeeze out as many laughs as they can, but a silk purse…… There is entertainment to be had and performances to admire, but for this viewer, it is a play which should probably be locked away in a deep vault forever.
All that being said, remember, this is just one person’s view and others will find treats in ‘The Mating Game’ . As ever, it must be borne in mind that at the Sidmouth Summer Festival, plays are rehearsed for just five days before being put in front of an audience; it is a staggering weekly phenomenon each summer and though the scripts may be variable; the performances and production values never fail to garner praise and admiration.
The play runs until 19 August and tickets are available at www.manorpavilion.com. Next week is the drama about spies, ‘Pack of Lies’ by Hugh Whitemore which runs from 4 until 9 September.
Cast & Creatives
Draycott Harris– Tom Mann
Honey Tooks – Holly Ashman
James Harris – Jimmy Chamberlain
Julia Carrington – Katherine Dodds
Mrs Finney – Emily Outred
Writer – Robin Hawdon
Director – Jason Moore
Design – Andrew Beckett
Lighting & Sound Operation & Design – Stage Tech Services
Costume Supervisor – Jan Huckle & Phoebe Fleetham
Set Builders – Henry Hayward, James Prendergast
Set Assistant – Dominic McChesney
Deputy Stage Manager – Daniel Saint
Artistic Director – Paul Taylor-Mills
Season Associate Producer – Andrew Beckett