Haywire is a staple West End-y farce but this underrated genre turns up spectacular surprises from time to time and this cute little masterpiece turns out to be one of them.
Because this black(ish) comedy peopled with monsters turns out to have a heart of gold as the monsters turn out to be only human, just like us, recognisably grappling with what it means to carry all the domestic burdens and duties of life while trying to get a little bit of it for yourself, not cruel, not cute, just unsentimental, and therefore all the more touchingly believable for that.
In reality, nothing is how we like it, nothing runs smooth, but that’s the raw material of farce. So instead of being just an unrealistic romp, like all good plays Haywire reflects with increasing faithfulness the comic messes we get ourselves into just by living, and that’s why it works.
The plot is simple. A middle-aged bookseller wants to resample life and makes elaborate plans to have a few Spanish days away with his bit on the side. His wife’s going away too. Fine. But she’s just bought a new dog, poorly, that needs looking after. Then his mother turns up, not too good herself.
Now his alibi, a bookseller’s trip to Hay on Wye, recedes at an increasing pace as one by one the ingredients of his conventional past come home to taunt him with the realisation that there’s no getting away from the pasts we’ve built.
Phil Shaw is brilliant as mid-life bookseller Alec whose strategies to stave off old age go so poignantly astray – “I’ve got to get to Hay-on-Wye!”- while Sue Evans as his Brummie wife Maggie who perhaps knows more than he guesses gives the character down to earth depth.
Dickie Bannister-Lowe as his son Jamie realistically plays back his father’s unspoken resentment at fatherhood, and his pregnant, defiantly unmarried daughter Mandy (Rachel Slade) chimes in on cue. His love interest Liz (Angelique Runnalls-Bould) evades all the rancour pertaining to her randy aspirations, but by the end it seems that for anyone reliving the old days, the game, realistically, is up.
Gina Martin’s marvellous production with its hand-picked cast is an object lesson in how to exploit a text, and proves my view that there’s always a star, here Maureen George as Phoebe, the gloriously infirm and indomitable mother.
A delightfully darkish comedy told with ghoulish good humour and compassion.