Review: The Secret Lives of Henry and Alice

MARGARET AGNEW
Last updated 10:17 30/01/2014

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As far as marriage goes, I'm pretty sure Rita Rudner had it right when she said: "I love being married. It's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life."

Married too long, the couple who make up this two-man band, Henry and Alice, have each developed their own coping mechanisms to relieve the unutterable tedium of their routine, British middle-class, married lives.

Henry and Alice Smith (played by real-life married luvvies Martin Howells and Helen Moran) escape into their own fantasies that range from sexy socialites and secret agents to sports heroes and politicians.

When we first meet him, Henry is pretending to be an actor who once met "Larry" Olivier. Funnily enough, Guildhall alumnus and Royal Shakespeare player Howells actually worked with Sir Laurence. So, in a deliciously circular coincidence, this play sees former National Theatre member Howells playing a man who fantasises about being an actor who was once complimented by the famous thespian.

Henry's life with housewife Alice is so dull, he's made a game of hiding his slipper just to annoy her. His idea of a romantic gift is to buy her a dishwasher. Meanwhile, Alice seems to have a more tender relationship with their pet goldfish, Orca (an excellent method actor), than with her 50-something husband.

She's taken to daydreaming of a friendly French waiter, but hasn't quite built up the nerve to imagine an affair yet, let alone an orgasm. 

The great joy of this witty little play by British comedy playwright David Tristram is the perfect pacing and back-and-forth banter between two consummate professionals.

You can't help but think this talented thespian couple can read each other's cues so well and create such chemistry in such an intimate space as CPIT's Nasda Theatre at least partly because of their off-stage relationship. Which is not to diminish their skill.

The quip-laden script, full of quick scene changes as fantasy merges with reality (with shades of Walter Mitty) requires enormously versatile actors. Luckily, Howells and Moran are more than up to the challenge of handling everything from malapropisms and innuendo to silly accents and interrogation scenes.

With great direction, professional lighting, clever props and a well-laid out set, the only thing slightly awry was Alice's many wigs (or should that be askew?).

This is a thoroughly enjoyable production which deserves an audience. I enjoyed it more than The Mikado.

The Secret Lives of Henry and Alice, by David Tristram. One Man Banned, at the Nasda Theatre, CPIT, January 29 (until February 9), Bookings: Dash tickets.

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