Given my dislike of most musical theatre (we usually leave them to Stage Review’s Anne), it was a relief to find Hatched ‘n’ Dispatched wasn’t the song and dance show I’d assumed from the promo tagline and Vivien of Holloway costume sponsorship.
This “mucky romp through the morals, music and memories of the ’50s,” which opened this week at London’s Park Theatre, turns out to be a patchy comedy with a darker side, dominated by a glorious turn by the frankly quite terrifying Wendi Peters.
Set in the late-1950s industrial north, but with accents from all over, Hatched ‘n’ Dispatched’s Needham family has just buried Uncle Arthur and christened Baby Clifford in a convenient double booking at the church. Now it’s time to party – with Cliff Richard on the radiogram and sausage rolls on the buffet table.
Matriarch Dorothy (Peters, playing much older than her years), husband Teddy (Kevin McGowan), widowed sister Irene (Wendy Morgan) and an assortment of adult offspring and their spouses, are thrown together into an awkward, uncomfortable, atmosphere.
Part wake, part celebration, they increasingly turn to the retro booze cabinet (green Chartreuse, anyone?) to cope.
We’re back to an era where Snowballs are the latest fashionable cocktail from London, and a bidet in your home was beyond comprehension – a sink to wash your feet in perhaps?
Writers Gemma Page and Michael Kirk’s sense of humour is even less sophisticated.
We’re talking glasses of wee getting mixed up with sherry, post-baby-making fluids on living room cushions, and puns about Aunt Fanny. Not my usual cup of Yorkshire tea but all three managed to raise an immature giggle.
Ninety percent of the time it’s Wendi Peters’ superb comic timing, booming delivery and withering put-downs bringing the laughs.
Stomping around in red silk, scowl and helmet-hard hair, she’s your nightmare mother-in-law multiplied by ten.
Peters puts in a star turn that elevates the show from uninspired family-comedy-by-numbers to something eminently watchable. Her booming “you can’t go disturbing the National Health at this time of night!” cracked me up.
A social-climber with affected airs and graces, Dorothy’s far too close to Keeping Up Appearances’ Hyacinth Bucket to be in any way an original character, but she’s still a joy to watch.
Having skipped 2009’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and always done my best to avoid X-Factor, Diana Vickers (here playing blonde dolly-bird Susan, strangely unconcerned by her dad’s recent death) isn’t someone on my radar.
The endless hair twirling, costume fidgeting and OTT wiggle walk are a distraction that grate a little against the cast’s more subtle performances, but she delivers some half-decent lines.
Would any young, single, working-class woman in 1959, finding herself knocked-up by one of three different men, one of which “might be the wrong colour,” have reacted with such light-hearted glee as Susan and her cousins? I doubt it.
It’s a storyline introduced for a couple of quick laughs and an overlong wee gag, when it should have been incorporated into the play’s darker second half when Page and Kirk – Kirk also directs – bring wife-beating and cheating into the mix.
Peters’ fellow Corrie stable-mate, Vicky Binns, doesn’t get much to do after the opening scene (a slapstick quickie on the floor of her aunt’s living room with her husband, which sets the tone for the whole play) but puts in a quietly endearing performance.
The others might take the proverbial out of her clumsy impotent drunkard of a husband (Matthew Fraser Holland), but he’s the only bloke in the family who’s a half decent man.
Wendy Morgan’s aging Monroe, Irene, is far more classy than big brash sister Dorothy, even if she’s been having it off with Dorothy’s husband for a couple of decades.
Morgan’s a class above the rest of the show, creating real sympathy as Teddy’s scorned ‘bit on the side’ who always believed she was more.
The sparse set – the odd bit of faded Edwardian furniture and a liquor cabinet – contrast with the jazzy fabrics, patterns and bright lippy of the female cast members, but the clash epitomises the era.
With the war, and the drab days of austerity and rationing long past, the swinging ‘60s were on the horizon, and it was a time of rapid change in style, taste and morals.
I’ve seen Hatched ‘n’ Dispatched described as innovative new writing, but there’s nothing here that’s new. The inter-family affairs, boozy arguments, a predictable finale where everyone finds out about everyone else – you can see it all coming a mile off.
It’s not original or complex, but there’s enough to make you chuckle throughout, and a stand-out performance from Peters, whose name should start being followed up with ‘national treasure’ some time soon.
Hatched ‘n’ Dispatched runs at the Park Theatre until September 26.
Hatched 'n' Dispatched
Park Theatre’s Hatched n Dispatched, a “mucky romp through the morals, music and memories of the ’50s,” turns out to be a patchy comedy with a darker side, dominated by a glorious turn from a quite terrifying Wendi Peters.