Reviewed by Alex Foott
Written by Rachel Hirons
Directed by Kat Hoult
Performance date – Mon 19th Aug 2013
Over the past decade, the British public has been subjected to television’s desperate attempt to revive the celebrated sitcoms of the 1990s. Though intended to reacquaint us with the hilarity of comedy classics such as Absolutely Fabulous and Gimme Gimme Gimme, the twenty first century generation fails to invoke even a titter. However, we needn’t be so despondent. Bulldozing the abysmal excuses for comedy we have learnt to tolerate, the latest writing from Rachel Hirons makes a valiant effort to revive the crude jokes, ridiculous slapstick and downright hysteria that we have been denied so long. Rather than resuscitating the sitcom for television, Dirty Laundry establishes the iconic style in the theatre, mercifully omitting the canned laughter and drab sets of yore.
The story begins with Esther, the harebrained and prying owner of a rather unfrequented launderette. Starved of human contact, she entertains herself by rifling through her customers’ clothes in order to learn their secrets and shames. Equally misanthropic is gawky teenager Tristan, the only person who can stomach Esther’s incessant ramblings. The pair presents the epitome of social ineptitude which cleverly attracts them to one another. When Tanya, a young girl who lives opposite the launderette, goes missing, Esther entices Tristan into her perverse pastime: imagining Tanya’s gory demise. When the police arrive on the street, Esther is in ecstasy, convincing the officer of each of her neighbours’ involvement in the supposed murder. During her frantic quest for social interactions, Esther unwittingly unveils her darker side, twisting the plot rather unexpectedly.
While certainly enjoyable, Dirty Laundry wavers in its direction and focus. Undeniably, the cast exhibits a wonderful chemistry that captures the audience and persuades us to sympathise with the utterly abhorrent characters. The three actors are individually successfully at creating and maintaining comedy yet, at times, they struggle to support and nurture one another’s performances. Hayley Jayne Standing is monstrously charming as Esther. Her shrieking voice and commedia-inspired physicality are complimented by her decided lack of eye contact when addressing the other actors. Lizzie Daykin provides the perfect foil as she glides about the space presenting us with an array of upstanding and innocent characters while Matthew Floyd Jones displays the adorably awkward humour that his fans have come to expect.
If this play had more physical comedy and an abundance of puns, then it could be a blinding success. The script is delightfully filthy and produces a variety of lingering mental images. As it stands, the stagnant plot is slightly unwarranted particularly because its characters lack the certain style employed by previously triumphant shows. Perhaps it was rather ambitious to transfer an iconic style of television to the stage. Perhaps it really is time to wave goodbye to British sitcoms.