One For The Road...
- The Play
First performed at Manchester Contact Theatre where it was originally advertised as TUPPERWARE MAN. Following legal threats from the Tupperware Company, however, the title was changed to PAINTED VEG AND PARKINSON for its opening in November, directed by Caroline Smith.
Olivier Award winning actor (and Tony nominated) – Con O’Neill – featured in the Northampton’s Royal & Derngate theatre production at the beginning of 2013. Con played Dennis, a role previously covered by Alun Armstrong and Drew Schofield, on the eve of his birthday and trying to desperately to ditch his middle class lifestyle. The hugely funny play also stars Matthew Wait (Casualty & Holby), Michelle Butterly (Benidorm)and Nicola Stephenson (Brookside & Homefront).
" ... the comic timing of all the cast members is superb."
"One for the Road is one of Willy Russell’s funniest and most poignant plays"
"Funny, moving and thought provoking, you wouldn’t expect any less….."
"The result is an
evening of enormous pleasure..."
It was perfectly fitting that the final production at the Royal & Derngate directed by Laurie Sansom was called One for the Road.
After seven hugely successful years in Northampton, Laurie is moving on to become the artistic director at the National Theatre of Scotland.
One for the Road is one of Willy Russell’s funniest and most poignant plays and Laurie uses all the directorial attributes that have made him so popular to bring out the comedy and razor sharp social satire in the work.
The play focuses on a character named Dennis who, on the eve of his 40th birthday, is desperate to break out of his suburban middle class life.
During a dinner party with his wife and neighbours, Roger and Jane, Dennis becomes progressively more angry and bitter about the airs and graces adopted by his friends, which seem to be turning them into middle-aged bores.
With a talented cast of Michelle Butterly, Con O’Neill, Nicola Stephenson and Matthew Wait, Laurie does a brilliant job of highlighting the differences between Dennis’s carefree, uninhibited and childish behaviour compared to his uptight dinner guests.
The performance is also packed with amusing 1980s references, including Tuppaware, cordless phones and a hilarious sketch about the BBC1 chat show, Wogan.
Despite the fact the play was written more than 30 years ago, the middle class concerns of youth crime, garden maintenance and ownership of the latest ‘must have’ consumer items still ring true today.
Funny, moving and thought provoking, you wouldn’t expect any less from Laurie’s last production.
Northampton Chronicle & Echo
"It’s a hysterically funny suburban sit-com that had the press night crowd crying with laughter."
Kicking off a new Comedy Gold Season for the theatre’s in-house production team is a farce written by Educating Rita author Willy Russell.
This comedy set in 1985 sees a man turning 40 but is distressed about his newly acquired middle class life. Instead, he longs for the days of music festivals and road trips.
It is a show that has lost none of its impact 20 years on because it is all about a man going through a mid-life crisis. And the vast majority of men in the audience could probably have related to it.
The transformation of Con O’Neill Dennis from wise-cracking lad to larger than life raging alcoholic was brilliant. You can feel his increasing desperation with every glass of wine he drinks.
But the four-man piece is perfect and he is ably supported by three fantastic fellow actors. Benidorm’s Michelle Buttery plays the concerned housewife to perfection while Nicola Stephenson’s prim and proper Jane and Matthew Wait’s surburban bore Roger enable Den’s change to be funnier and painful.
It takes a certain level of skill to put comedy and tragedy side by side and Willy Russell’s script is perfectly balanced. For all of the big belly laughs you will get watching this show, it is underpinned by a man’s sheer desperation with the world that he has found himself in. It is a story that will make people think about the direction of their own lives and the hopes and dreams they once had.
But this is a show that is primarily designed to make you laugh and One for the Road will you have chuckling for a long time after leaving the theatre.
Steve Mills - The Daventry Express
Laurie Sansom's tenure at Northampton began with Sondheim's great masterpiece of middle-age regret, Follies. For his leave-taking (Samson is soon off to run the National Theatre of Scotland), he has chosen another story of squandered dreams and mid-life crisis. One might say it is been a journey from the sublime to the ridiculous.
There may be scurrilous reference to Joan Bakewell, but this is definitely not the Pinter play of the same name; rather, it is a rare Willy Russell comedy set during the 1980s on a northern housing estate with pretensions. While Pauline (Michelle Butterly) schemes to keep up with smug neighbours Jane and Roger, who are determined to uncover the culprits responsible for vandalising the estate's garden gnomes, Pauline's husband, Dennis, is approaching his 40th birthday with dread. How did his dreams of freedom become subsumed into a world of John Denver records and poshed-up cottage pie?
Russell's easy facility with a joke – the more outrageous the better – ensures plenty of laughs, somewhat in the mould of Alan Ayckbourn and Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party (although it lacks the cruelty of the latter). There is certainly fun to be had with the smooth but unhappy Roger (Matthew Wait) and with Jane (Nicola Stephenson), a woman who has put her organisational talents into their sex life: "We've eliminated the variables," she says, "and achieved sex with structure."
Humour generally takes priority over emotional truth, though, and there is little to hint that any of the characters are much troubled by inner life. A rare exception is Con O'Neill's Dennis, who carries the evening before him as a man who dreams of tunnelling out of his kitchen like a prisoner of war – but knows that, for him, there will be no escape.
Lyn Gardner - The Guardian
If Mickey Johnston had not taken a wrong turn in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers then there’s a fair chance he’d have matured into Dennis Cain, Russell’s anti-hero in his comedy, One For The Road.
Dennis is a maverick who has somehow ended up suffocating in suburbia. He’s depressed about life passing him by, about losing his edge, and about being forced to come to terms with his 40th birthday (ha, wait until your 50th!).
And perhaps his frustrations are shared by the Royal & Derngate’s artistic director Laurie Sansom who, after seven years, gives us Russell’s play as his own swansong before furthering his career with the National Theatre of Scotland.
Lots of us have lived, at some time in our lives, on faceless housing estates that are designed like rabbit warrens. The houses and streets look cloned and, after a fashion, the residents are all pretty much the same – unless you’re fortunate to live in posh “phase two” and look down on those in the earlier “phase one” homes.
Pauline Cain aspires to fit in and her neighbours, Jane and Roger, are already entrenched. But Dennis is a menace. He wants to be 18 again. He turns the music up loud and subversively skulks around the neighbourhood getting up to no good.
His wife despairs.
This anthem for lost youth is typical Willy Russell and no-one does little boy lost better than one of his favourite actors, Con O’Neill (who was such a hit as Johnston).
A lot of middle aged members of the audience can relate to his mid-life crisis. Where do the years go? One minute you’re moshing to the Sex Pistols and, the next, your loved ones are trying to persuade you to love John Denver and comfy slippers.
Dennis rails against Tupperware, country music, and aging. He eventually goes into meltdown but will he have the courage of his convictions?
Michelle Butterly as the social-climbing Pauline, Nicola Stephenson as Jane and Matthew Wait (Roger) are utterly recognisable. We’ve all endured them through residents’ meetings, PTAs and the like. Jane is a bit too much like Mike Leigh’s iconic social climber, Beverly, from Abigail’s Party but ultimately this is Dennis’s story.
The husky-voiced O’Neill is engrossing and, I suspect, gets a certain admiration from men in the audience who sympathise with his plight.
It’s a hysterically funny suburban sit-com that had the press night crowd crying with laughter…
Anne Cox - Milton Keynes Citizen