A PLAY about a serial wannabe love-rat might not sound like the recipe for a fun night out, but that is exactly what audiences at The Wokingham Theatre got this week.
The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, starring Chris Lyne, Victoria Paterson, Nicky Allpress and Rachel Pearson, follows the misadventures of Barney Cashman, a stable, reliable fish restaurant owner, who ‘life has gone out of its way to ignore’, as he attempts to spice up his middle-aged life with an extra-marital affair.
It is the late-1960s and the ‘free love’ movement has blazed through New York City. After 23 years of wedded bliss to Thelma, Barney (Chris Lyne) finds himself wanting more. At 49-years-old, he has started to read the obituary column just so he can enjoy not seeing his name in there, and for the last two years he’s ‘seriously considered’ having an affair.
Barney’s first ‘conquest’, Mrs Elaine Navazio, played by the excellent Victoria Paterson, is a whirlwind from the moment she steps on stage. Clearly adept at the art of the affair, feisty Elaine points Barney in all the right directions, but he misjudges every turn, even ending up face down on the floor at one point. Paterson holds the audience in the palm of her hand, her comic timing and expressive mannerisms keep everyone laughing, even when Barney is making an emotive speech about his reasons for wanting an affair. Unimpressed by his offer of scotch and lack of cigarettes, Elaine proves too much for Barney to handle, and he vows to never do this again… never… never….
Several months pass before Barney next tries to woo Bobbi (Nicky Allpress), an aspiring actress who he meets in the park. Nuttier than a squirrel poo, she rushes around the set, which has been styled as a Barney’s elderly mother’s apartment, complete with working dimmer switch, fridge and air conditioning unit. This time around, Barney has come prepared with scotch and vodka, and several packets of cigarettes, cheered on by the audience. This is a character we shouldn’t like: on paper he is deceitful and calculated, but you can’t help but egg him on to see what mess her gets himself into next.
The action takes an unexpected turn when Barney finally tries it on with his wife’s best friend, Jeanette (Rachel Pearson). Neurotic and depressed, she is in no mood to be seduced, but still he perseveres. The play takes on a more serious tone as Jeanette implores Barney to name three people he thinks are ‘decent, caring and gentle’ as she refuses to believe that anyone can fit such a description. Can he win her round and convince her that he is a decent person, despite his desire to cheat on his wife?
Raising the laughs from start to finish, Last of the Red Hot Lovers leaves you with a restored faith in humanity. Yes, we are flawed; yes, we make mistakes, but ultimately we all have the best intentions at heart, and will realise, eventually, that the thing we wanted the most was right in front of us the whole time.