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The Cock & Tail Inn
Published on Friday, 27 May 2011
4

4 stars

Old Ship Hotel (venue website)
Comedy
18-21, 25-28 May, 7:45pm-9:45pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.

I'll cut to the chase on this one: two of this play's most memorable moments involve flying false teeth, and an extremely posh lady who says the word "bonking". For some people, those jokes won't ever be funny, however ironically they might be done. For the rest of us, The Cock And Tail Inn is a guilty pleasure - the best and worst of 70's sitcom, recreated with affection and a certain amount of style, in a mocked-up bar filled with the memories of a quietly fading age.

All of the bar's regulars are sketched larger than life: the Irish priest with his secret trips to the bookies', the henpecked and cuckolded husband, the hard-bitten barmaid who's seen it all.  My favourite's the wide-boy Brummie, as Seventies as his sideburns and as loud as his checked suit.  More riskily, there's a smiley-smiley goodness-gracious-me Asian - a slightly uncomfortable echo of times gone by which, on balance, I'm glad they dared to leave in.

But it's a style of comedy which died out for a reason, and the danger was always that a too-faithful reproduction would send us plummeting back to Terry And June hell. On the night I attended, the opening scenes flirted with the abyss - the energy wasn't high enough and the situations weren't extreme enough, so the in-jokes fell almost as flat as the old ones they were aping. But I'm glad I kept the faith; the arrival of an outsider provides the necessary spark, as the rustic regulars scrabble to impress the cut-glass townie Pamela.

They're predictably bad at guessing what will curry the lady's favour, and their embarrassingly bad manoeuvrings crank up the action after the interval. The ensemble cast works well together - keep an eye out for reactions in the background - and a few of the cardboard characters prove to have unexpected depth.  The satisfyingly chaotic finale reveals an unexpected twist, which works all the better because it's out of keeping with the time-warp humour defining the rest of the piece.

It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into this play. The little details are admirably frozen in the past - remember pound notes? - and they've had a lot of fun in the wardrobe department, with oversize collars, teetering platforms and of course, glitzy flares. The humour alternates between bawdy and sharp, and the characters, for all their cartoonishness, have just enough to them to make you care. Flying teeth aren't for everyone - consider yourself warned - but if you've any affection for this lost age of TV, it's worth tuning in to The Cock And Tail Inn.

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