Dicey-Dos: Jack Absolute Flies Again
Sheridan’s The Rivals keeping the 18th century confusions, country house setting, smut, malapropisms and entendres — but in a World War Two setting….
An English country house has become a World War Two RAF base. Lydia Languish returns to encounter and avoid her former flame Jack Absolute at her aunt’s home and now RAF base. A deliverer of planes and emancipated modern woman, she wants to be with a working man, Fitter (the fit plane fitter — get it?!!!) Only he doesn’t — he only has eyes and a heart for Lucy the maid. There is also an Australian pilot who no-one fancies, an Indian pilot who loves Lydia and seeks to write her poetry (and is pointedly called Tony because no-one can say his name Bikram), and the friend, Julia Melville (in the army) who is in love with an RAF pilot, Roy Kingsmith.
It was smuttier than expected and a LOT of F-bombs, but also very funny — Caroline Quentin as Lady of the Manor (Manner) Mrs/Lady Malaprop was fantastic with her wide ranging lexicon! Lucy the Maid regularly broke the fourth wall and explained to us what was going on — as she adjusted letters given to her with secrecy and bribes; hid various people and meddled in affairs, setting a romance going between Lady Malaprop and Sir Anthony Absolute, Jack’s blustering father.
In the meantime Malaprop and Absolute want Lydia and Jack to marry — they really don’t! Jack decides to disguise himself as a (bad) version of Fitter to persuade Lydia to love him and then do a big reveal. Only Lucy, letters and a duck hunt get in the way.
It was filthy in parts (along with the many F-bombs — maybe unnecessarily so). However maybe this is the nature of the play as it was originally (in 1775) criticised for its bawdiness and one actor got hit with an apple thrown by a member of the audience. No apple throwing my night — some fantastic banter with the BSL interpreter on how they were going to interpret a particular malapropism, which had gone very wrong indeed with word selection! Caroline Quentin was hilarious; the jive flash back was fantastic and the boxing match at the end with Fitter punching everyone in turn hilarious! Lucy’s fourth walling, explaining the rules of restoration comedy, very funny as was her dealing with being patronised as a working class girl and gamboling off when convinced that Fitter loves her! Not to mention finding and hiding the duck — love a duck! Fast paced comedy throughout and great energy in keeping the disguises and scenarios going — especially when Jack started to lose his ‘Fitter’ moustache to… Lydia….
The ending was surprising — but it is a tribute to World War Two veterans. Whilst it did highlight some of the prejudice experienced by colonial forces serving in the British forces at the time, I think it did Polish servicemen a great disservice in not having a Polish character, given how much Poland did for Britain at the time. Instead they had invented an Indian pilot, which sadly wasn’t allowed at the time — engineer or fitter perhaps….This twisting of historical truth for diverse casting was a shame. However this isn’t a historical play so….Other diverse casting was great and it is very, very funny. The only bit which really doesn’t work are the visual parts, depicting the dogfights as they trivialise somewhat what the real pilots went through — it’s a bit of a space invaders feel. A lot of situation comedy fun, but somewhat sentimental at the end. But worth it for the set — which opens and closes like an origami dolls house (and everyone shuttling in and out of doors, windows and arbours before scrambles!)
Unexpectedly, the play’s programme (playbill) has led me to fascinated with World War Two RAF slang. It’s somewhat childish and very rude (so perhaps the play’s heavy swearing is accurate), but it also made me remember how young most of the RAF pilots were during World War Two and how perhaps they were using almost school boy humour to lessen the impact of what they were going through and experiencing.