The award-winning Hope Theatre welcomes Michael Head’s Worth A Flutter for a limited run. Directed by Jonathon Carr, it stars Head alongside Clare McNamara, Lucy Pinder, Paul Danan & Jack Harding. In writing the play, Head has drawn inspiration from his family & friends, setting it in his native south east London and telling stories from their lives.
It centres around Matt and, latterly, Sam, as they navigate their own stale relationships – both encountering Helen in her cage and seizing upon her as a means of escape. Matt’s fiancée Paige has always been promiscuous throughout their relationship, but they’ve somehow just carried on despite seeming to be tired with one another; when she flaunts her affair with his best friend Paul, Matt decides enough is enough. Similarly, Sam’s marriage has been stuck in a rut, so his friend Martin suggests that perhaps a one night stand could get it out of his system. But can Helen be the answer to both Matt and Sam’s prayers?
What follows are two hours of crass laddish attempts at humour, and more than a hint of sexism. When Matt introduces his fiancée as a “quality bird” with a “body that’s built to…” [insert innuendo wink here] you immediately know the kind of night you’ve let yourself in for. Having a pervy old man basically blackmail another character into having sex somewhere he can see it through the hole in their adjoining wall is about as far from funny as you can get, and Matt describing him & Sam both being involved with Helen as them having “both eaten off the same plate” is another dated, cringeworthy moment. The two men fighting over Helen is so unnecessary, especially as she’s perfectly able to defend herself & make her own decisions (no wonder her cafe’s so empty, she’s possibly the rudest & least professional cafe owner ever) – it’s not at all progressive in any way.
And even if that kind of thing appeals to you, the way it’s constructed leaves it rather disjointed – and not a lot actually seems to happen. It’s almost constant back story (either narrated directly to the audience or through dialogue between characters), cut with the odd bizarre skit, such as a Scottish talking penis. The whole thing about gambling & odds seems to have just been thrown in there without much thought; Matt is supposedly a semi-professional poker player who also has the odd bet on the horses, but this bears very little relevance to the rest of the story. And whether or not the stories are true, there are far too many over the top details crammed into two hours – in that respect, it’s like a soap on steroids.
By far and away the best thing about the production is Clare McNamara as Helen; she has her feistiness & no-nonsense approach down to a tee, and delivers her barbs with bite and dry humour. Jack Harding also does well as the earnest & awkward Sam, providing the show with some grounding. In stark contrast, Paul Danan simply appears to be mucking about and pulling faces most of the time, though he comes into his own as the weird & pervy Mr Edwards. Lucy Pinder (Paige/Emma) makes a valiant effort with the shallow material she’s given, though deploys a fantastic Scottish accent when she takes on the aforementioned penis role. Head is clearly passionate about telling these stories – though that does occasionally translate into deafening shouts that ping quickly around the studio space, it is always heartening to see such conviction & enthusiasm in a performance.
My verdict? Two hours of sexist lad ‘humour’ that all too often veers into soap territory, with performances of varying quality – more of a rank outsider than a dead cert.
Worth A Flutter runs at The Hope Theatre until 19 May 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.