Jack Studio Theatre 24 October – 11 November. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Two British couples are forced into unlikely friendship on their skiing holiday in Chamonix. Bev and Dave have only been together for a few months, and this is their first holiday together, while Alison and Chris have been living together for over a decade. At first, Alison and Chris think the other pair are dodgy, while Bev and Dave think the older couple are snobs. John Godber’s cracking comedy charts the unravelling of the two relationships as physical injury, alcohol and the presence of sexy ski instructor Tony take their toll.
Amongst the funny lines there is room for a lot of physical comedy, which director Andrew Agnew fits into the tiny space brilliantly. The first ski lesson is a hoot from start to finish, with most of the novice skiers struggling even to snap their boots into the skis, and Tony telling the group to be very sexy in ze body as they snowplough along. The cast’s wincing walk on the second morning of their holiday is instantly recognisable to any unfit skiers. The simple set and props are moved around between scenes to create new locations, with the cable car scene being a standout – very little dialogue, but lots of hysterical characterisation from the cast.
The most immediately striking characters are Tony (Robbie Smith) who tries his Gallic smarm on the audience before the skiers arrive, and Bev (Ceris Hine) who wouldn’t be out of place in Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies. The other characters reveal themselves more slowly, but are worth the wait.
Smith just about keeps the egotistical Tony likeable until his confrontation with Chris, and doesn’t overdo the stereotype. Hine is hysterical as Bev, with a voice that could shear ice and a little girl act that she wheels out whenever she wants her own way. But you can’t help but warm to Bev, as her open and honest reactions to what happens around her keep you giggling as things turn dark. Her physical comedy is fantastic, and not many people could carry off that sunburn and bandages so effortlessly. James Murfitt as Dave is bubbling with frustration at Bev, and again has fantastic physical reactions to what goes on – and that sauna scene! Ellie Jackson’s Alison is the least likeable character at first, but as the play continues, the reasons behind her attitude to Chris become clearer, and she wins the audience’s sympathy in a finely judged performance. Andrew Agnew keeps Chris enigmatic beneath the cheery everyman persona, and when he finally lets rip it comes as quite a shock.
This is bittersweet situational comedy rather than cutting edge, so might not please everybody – but if you’re looking for an evening of belly laughs, you need to go On The Piste.