Image Credit: A big thank you as ever to Stuart Wineberg and The Chameleons for the images.
The play’s title indicated there would be play on words (in every sense) running through the latest production from The Chameleon Theatre Group. With a title like this, it can hardly be avoided! Still it does tie in with my post last week on Meanings!
The Joys of Research for CFT
The play was written by Devon Williamson (a New Zealand playwright) and the humour came thick and fast. As ever the performances by the Chameleons were great. It is fantastic to have a local company on our doorsteps putting on a wide range of material.
Whenever I’ve been to one of their productions, I’ve learned something about the play/the playwright in researching for my review, but I’ve also been thoroughly entertained by a story new to me. The important thing is to take in good stories and going to watch a play is another way of doing that. It’s even better when you can see a local company staging great shows.
As you can imagine with this play, there were some interesting responses when I typed the play title into my search engine! Did you know My Husband’s Nuts is also the title of a company in California specialising in candied almonds?! Thought not. (Oh and if you wondered what else came up in my search, I’m going to leave you to wonder…!).
Now one problem I have with reviewing any play is how much to reveal. You don’t want to give everything away. I hope what follows gives a good flavour of the play and performances.
The play has all the classic ingredients of a farce – an absurd situation, silly humour (forget subtlety – there’s a strong link between farce and pantomime here), and one setting. As ever with plays like this, there were only two acts but that makes sense.
Act 1 sets up the characters and situations and Act 2 gives the resolution. Now I always prefer Act 2 (as I did again here) as I’m always keen to see how the story works out but there is a case for watching plays of this type at least twice.
The first viewing is to get the story, the other would be to make sure you haven’t missed any gags! (I find the same with reading the wonderful Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books).
But the way to judge a farce ultimately is does it make the audience laugh in all the right places?
The audience laughed out loud throughout the evening and the gags ranged from constipation (I haven’t BEEN for a week. Been where?) to jokes about stereotypical “city slickers” and “good-hearted country folk”.
Farce has to paint a broad brush to get its laughs but that is precisely why you go to see one. And My Husband’s Nuts delivered… (and that’s the kind of line which could make it into a farce!)
The Dangers With Farce
The dangers with farce are letting the jokes swamp the story so there is no plot (the play then becomes a series of sketches).
Then there’s the risk of the characters being so stereotypical they are cardboard cut-outs. There has to be a proper story. There has to be a problem that has to be resolved. There has to be conflict for the characters.
Most of all, the characters should not find the situation they find themselves in at all funny. For them, their situation is real and they’ve got to get themselves out of the mess they’re in.
Above all, the actors have to take it seriously to be able to portray all of that.
Did that come across in this production?
Oh yes. Well done, all.
When something is patently absurd, the urge to laugh at it all must be hard to resist. But the laughing has to be done by the audience alone for the farce to work as it should do.
Again, I want to give credit to the wonderful setting for this. The Chameleons work so hard on building their sets. (It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with for the set of Atlantis which will be their pantomime and next production).
For this play, we were in the living room of the Fitzgerald family farmhouse. (It looked very cosy!). I see from the programme the dogs in the pictures on the wall belong to Carrie Laythorpe who directed the play and is The Chameleons’ Chair. Being a collie owner I took an immediate interest in those agility pictures!
Little details like pictures can make a huge difference as to how convincing the set is (and I still think they surpassed themselves with the Blackadder set). Setting is the first thing the audience sees. It takes us into the world of the play at once. It has to convince.
My Husband’s Nuts – Story Summary
Jack Fitzgerald – Nick Coleman
Barbara Fitzgerald – Liz Strevens
Charlie Fitzgerald – Kayleigh Fagence
Terry McLeod – Wayne Bradshaw
Jo Robinson – Fiona Winchester
The play opens with vet Jo Robinson calling the Fitzgeralds. She is new to the country in which the play is set (it’s never revealed where this is). With so many animals to so few people in the region, the numbers never lie (a comment repeated throughout the play), her business would be bound to do well – or will it?
None of the farmers in the area will even let her on their properties until Jack Fitzgerald approves. He is a legendary farmer and is due to open the County Fair on Saturday.
But Jack doesn’t want to talk to her on the phone, he goes out on his quad bike (something he’s not been getting on well with) and then goes missing. When he does return, he comes back with a nasty bump on the head, and now refuses to leave the house. The chances of Jo getting Jack’s approval are looking bleak.
Worse still, Jack is suffering from Agri-phobia (the fear of agriculture) and believes he is Hiroo Onoda – a Japanese soldier who didn’t believe World War Two had ended until the 1970s. (Hiroo wrote a book about his experiences called No Surrender).
Barbara Fitzgerald knows her husband is nuts. The obvious thing to do would be to get her husband to a doctor but he won’t go out and the town doctor has the name “Nosey Parker”. Word would get out around the town and Jack’s reputation would be shattered. There is no way Barbara will allow that to happen.
Worse still, she is up to her neck making 500 muffins (three different flavours too!) for the County Fair and she’s not going to let people down. Her reputation will be enhanced if she gets those muffins done! She is the Muffin Ma’am, which is a nice reference to the old rhyme, The Muffin Man, which also featured as a gag in Shrek. .
So Jack’s condition has to be kept quiet until it can be figured out what can be done. Who can Barbara trust? Well, Jo Robinson for one because she is new and people aren’t talking to her! Then there’s the village idiot, Terry McLeod, who is Barbara’s brother and a vegetarian. (The latter does not go down well with anyone in the farming community).
The challenge then is for Barbara, Jo and Terry, to restore Jack to full health so he can open the County Show on Saturday and nobody will ever know anything was wrong. For Jo, if she is going to be a vet in the area, Jack must recommend her. Barbara obviously does not want her husband to be nuts or keep thinking he is an old soldier! So how do things work out…?!
Writers are always looking for a story resolution and I was wondering at the end of Act 1 just how the play would tie things up. All I will say is it did using the story of Hiroo (which is a true one) to bring about a good conclusion.
The humour extended to the props too. When Jack has set up a makeshift camp in the lounge, he fixes two toilet rolls together with tape and uses them as binoculars! When Terry is urged to wear something to help boost his esteem, he turns up next wearing a hat full of greens because he is proud to be a vegetarian. (Barbara uses the term as if he has a disease!).
So you can see from the above, there is plenty of conflict. From the character viewpoints, the situation is not at all funny – and that’s how it should be. It is for us, the audience, to find it funny – and we did.
It was a great evening. Many thanks, the Chameleons.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.