The Pride; A Little Hotel on the Side – review

Trafalgar Studios, London; Theatre Royal, Bath
A drama about sexual liberation since the 50s leaves theatregoers giggling and wriggling

"To Russia with Love", say the placards carried by the cast of The Pride at their second curtain call (they could have taken half a dozen). A voice from the back of the stalls shouts: "Thank you!"

Go to Alexi Kaye Campbell's 2008 drama to see a play that makes an exceptional connection with its audience: there were not just murmurs of recognition but ripples of relieved laughter. Strongly felt and ingeniously structured, The Pride may be about to take on the mantle of Patrick Marber's Closer: a drama at which you can see and hear people acknowledging their own hopes and disappointments. It's a true documentary of contemporary emotions, and Jamie Lloyd's fine revival is particularly timely.

Scenes from 1958 and from 50 years later are plaited. The earlier episodes are triggered by a closeted homosexual man; the latter by an unhappily promiscuous gay man. Both are played, with delicacy and gusto, by Al Weaver, who moves in an instant from a 50s gabardine to Calvin Klein jockeys. Around him, Hayley Atwell (in the moving character of the wife who knows she is loved but not desired in the 50s, and the genial best friend of the 00s) is first beautifully cut-glass and then cutting-edge. Everyone slides between Noël Coward clippedness (I think these vowels are rather overdone for the 50s, but they're delivered cleverly) to slack-jawed slouchiness. Harry Hadden-Paton is impressive as the reluctantly gay husband and Mathew Horne extraordinarily chameleon-like as "a make-believe Nazi", a sinister aversion-therapy doctor and a venal magazine editor who wants an article about gay sex with a straight man ("keep it light"). All in front of Soutra Gilmour's magnificent design of a tarnished (guilt-ridden?) mirror, in which, like the characters, you may see parts of yourself.

It's often said that lying in bed with someone you don't love is the loneliest thing in the world. Not getting the joke in the theatre comes close: there are few things more dispiriting than hearing a laugh whiz past you and land on your neighbours.

I wonder whether anything could make me giggle uncontrollably at Georges Feydeau's 1894 farce, A Little Hotel on the Side. Lindsay Posner's production certainly did not. You may not expect plot surprises, and you won't get them: ill-assorted couples meet up in a hotel and are wrongly (or rightly) suspected of having illicit liaisons. Predictability wouldn't matter – indeed, might be part of the fun – if the action were quick and light, but it does when someone who threatens to come down the stairs takes ages to get there. You might expect a few stock characters, but not the totally uninflected beings we see here. Hannah Waddingham mugs it up as a martinet: the idea of a grumpy woman is supposed to reduce the audience to helpless laughter, with every insult thrown at her treated as if it were a finely honed shaft of wit.

Little Hotel Side
Tom Edden and Hannah Waddingham in A Little Hotel on the Side. Photograph: PR

Still, Richard McCabe gets it spot on as the wanting-to-have-it-away husband: always on the grope and rather appealing. There are a couple of good wheezes: a chorus of girls repeat their father's every mot as if they were in The Sound of Music. One character stammers; the stammer is tediously strained into jokes ("Wee – wee – wee…") then cleverly made into a plot device, and given a wonderfully surreal twist: he stammers only when it rains.

John Mortimer's version chortles along with something flavoursome every now and then. "I'm leading the emotional life of a stuffed aubergine," wails one woman. "Stuffed – surely not," comes the reply. That's as good as it gets.


Susannah Clapp

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Little Sure Shot review – how Annie got her gun
Verity Kirk hits the bullseye as wild west sharp-shooter Annie Oakley in this musical biography

Clare Brennan

05, Apr, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
A Little Hotel on the Side – review

This production of Feydeau and Desvallières' play is diverting, but rarely reaches the dizzying dementia of great farce, writes Michael Billington

Michael Billington

22, Aug, 2013 @3:54 PM

Article image
The Double – review
A fine cast and stunningly good puppetry make for a complex central portrayal in this adaptation of Dostoevsky's tale, writes Clare Brennan

Clare Brennan

02, Dec, 2012 @12:02 AM

Article image
Relative Values – review

Trevor Nunn's maintains a balance of feeling and fun in Noël Coward's class comedy, writes Clare Brennan

Clare Brennan

22, Jun, 2013 @11:02 PM

Article image
Travesties review – a tonic from start to finish
Tom Hollander is sensational in this exuberant Stoppard revival

Kate Kellaway

09, Oct, 2016 @7:10 AM

Article image
Closer review – Marber’s 90s passion play still stirs
Patrick Marber’s finely wrought 1997 play about the brutal business of falling in and out of love holds good in David Leveaux’s smooth if safe revival

Susannah Clapp

01, Mar, 2015 @8:00 AM

Article image
In a Garden – review
Howard Korder's characters are not well rounded, but In a Garden works at a symbolic level, writes Clare Brennan

Clare Brennan

14, Apr, 2012 @11:05 PM

Article image
Don Juan in Soho review – David Tennant seduces all
Tennant is dissolution personified in Patrick Marber’s brilliant update of his 2006 take on Molière

Kate Kellaway

02, Apr, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Saved; The Phoenix of Madrid; Iphigenia – review

Saved, Edward Bond's brutal 1965 play, seems all too believable in a superb revival at the Lyric, writes Susannah Clapp

Susannah Clapp

14, Oct, 2011 @6:00 PM

Article image
Hedda Gabler review – Ruth Wilson shines in Patrick Marber’s Ibsen update
Lyttelton, London
Its star and writer cannot be faulted, but Ivo van Hove’s production could do with a change of pace

Susannah Clapp

18, Dec, 2016 @8:00 AM