Laughter was rolling around the Brunton last night as sketches and characters from the great comic actress Beryl Reid were brought back to life in Elaine Pantling’s one-woman show.
Here were Reid’s signature characters: Concepcion the Spanish waitress, Marlene from the Midlands – complete with outrageous earrings – and Monica the naughty schoolgirl, all resuscitated and rejuvenated in an audience participatory format.
When creating these characters Elaine Pantling was in her element.
Beryl Reid famously used to perform in costume – even in her early days on the radio – and Pantling performs with a line of shoes spotlit centre stage. As she slips into another pair, so she takes on that character. A device Reid used for her very first audition.
Pantling, who is at her best when improvising and working her audience, made the first half slip by. This was a dinner party cooked live on stage, hosted by Beryl and consumed by unsuspecting audience members brought up on stage to help.
One man even got to do a bit of cooking as he stirred up a wokful of chicken chow mein – without the chicken.
It was a solidly entertaining hour, with just enough added detail of Reid’s life and background between the sketches. Whether it had her intensity and ability to create and sustain a character and accent is another matter. It was more a tribute to the spirit of Beryl Reid than an attempt to imitate her.
The second half fared far worse. Less attention to the sketches meant more of the chat and Pantling became marooned in the sea of her material.
Supposedly representing Reid at the end of her life, reminiscing from her eccentric house on the Thames known as Honeypot Cottage, Pantling was hesitant in her delivery.
Most surprising was the sparseness of the biographical material given what is available: Reid worked her way from variety through radio to television, and then into straight theatre – with stage and screen hits in both the Killing of Sister George and Entertaining Mr Sloan.
Despite the occasional four star moment, this rolls dangerously close to two star territory towards its finish.