The Morning After, Above the Stag

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If the sound of Above the Stag’s revival of Peter Quilter’s seminal rom-com The Morning After (“a modern comedy about love, sex and relationships”) appeals but you are unable to make the trip to Vauxhall, I recommend dropping loads of acid and binge-watching every 70s sex-sitcom (sixt-com?) you can find.

This is not a criticism of the play, though it is curious how deeply televisual (by extension not very theatrical?) the production feels. Even the phenomenal and immaculately detailed set feels exactly like watching a sitcom. This doesn’t affect enjoyment, but it does create a curiously intimate sensation: I felt we should have all been in our pyjamas, curled up on sofas together, perhaps that’s the point because intimacy (whether it’s a lack of or an excess) is at the heart of this play.

The Morning After, written originally to feature a gay male marriage, and re-written later on with a heterosexual couple (presented here, naturally, in its original form) The Morning After starts with shy but sexually prolific Tom (David Fenne, perfectly balancing bravado with increasing bewildered panic) waking up in bed after a barely remembered one night stand with Adam (an exuberant Chris Cahill), who is sweet but utterly lacking in boundaries. Then Adam’s mum walks in…

It’s Colleen Daley as the monstrous Barbara who really steals the show. Veering between 1970s sitcom matron and something darker, Barbara is a Roald Dahlian creation (if Dahl had written knob gags) in clouds of pink chiffon; an impeccable hostess and provider of endless cups of coffee who thinks nothing of jumping into bed with the naked man her son brought home last night. It’s twenty years since Queer as Folk’s iconic PPLAG mother hen Debbie Novotny, but there’s still something glorious and beautiful in seeing a mother so enthusiastically embrace not just her gay son, but her son’s gayness itself.

All of this is far too serious for a play that starts out as ‘Men Around the House: 2020’ and finishes roughly at the courtroom scene in What’s Up Doc. I thought about working a Carry On Up the Khyber reference in there too, except I’ve never actually seen it (but with a title like that, it’s got to be fairly homoerotic, right?). As fun and sometimes sweet as the play is, the emphasis on comedy and the relentless gag-chasing does mean that characterisation suffers in places, and rather leaves the character’s motivations in the dark. Adam and his mother behave so outrageously, it’s baffling why Tom wouldn’t run straight for the hills, or possibly the nearest solicitor’s office to get a restraining order. In more subtle hands, Barbara’s evident love for her son and fervent belief in the power of 70s let-it-all-hang-out free love liberation would temper her more grotesque excesses. As it is, when Adam’s even more outrageous Uncle Martin (Matthew Lloyd Davis: insane) turns up, there is nothing to do but forget about reality, let go of all your boundaries and reservations, laugh, strap on (or strap one on, maybe), and enjoy the ride…

The Morning After is on until 1 March 2020 https://abovethestag.org.uk/whatson/the-morning-after/

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