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“I’d make you a sauce butty if I had any bread… and a bit more sauce.”

2012 October 17
by Paul Vallely

Lighthearted Intercourse, Octagon Theatre, Bolton


This is a real theatrical curio. It is the premiere of a play by Bill Naughton – who created the Sixties classics Alfie and Spring and Port Wine. It has been stitched together by the director David Thacker from a dozen drafts and handwritten notes from the papers of the writer who died 10 years back.

The Sixties of Naughton’s heyday now feels like history but in Lighthearted Intercourse it the future. Set in a 1920s modest Bolton terrace, like the one where Naughton grew up, it begins as an engaging piece of social history centred round one of the three million unemployed, Joe, who fruitlessly searches for work each day while his wife Madge scrapes meals together. “I’d make you a sauce butty if I had any bread… and a bit more sauce.”

It projects a warm northern wit from an era before that became clichéd. “I’m what passes for a bit of an intellectual, in Bolton,” says Joe. “A motorway connecting us to Yorkshire? Who wants to be connected to Yorkshire?” quips another character. These were the days when the Tippler closet (an ingenious way of using water from the kitchen sink to flush the outside lavvy) was the height of sophistication.

There’s a panto feel to the humour. Nicholas Shaw, an assuredly jaunty Joe, just has to say local place names to get a laugh from the Bolton audience in a first act which is largely a monologue, counterpointed with some funny and gently sexy scenes of the couple in bed. Fiona Hampton gives Madge an attractive openness.

It feels slight and over-long – as is the gag of the woman whose job it was to knock on the window to wake those lucky enough to have a job. Director Thacker may have been over-indulgent here because she is played, in an off-stage recording, by Maxine Peake, whose first professional production was at the Octagon, with her victim voiced by Peter Kay, who used to work in the theatre’s box office.

But the second act whips up real dramatic tension with a mysterious visitor who knows more about Joe’s future than ought to be possible – stolidly played with nicely under-stated emotion by David Fleeshman. As jealousies emerge to threaten the marriage we begin to care about what happens to the vulnerable young couple. It’s a patchwork of a play, and the stitching shows, but a tenderness and intimacy wells up which becomes genuinely touching.

Three stars

Lighthearted Intercourse  Bolton Octagon from 4th October – 3rd November.

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