NOBODY can accuse Sue Healy of failing to tackle the big issues of today in her latest play Imaginationship, showing at the Finborough Theatre.
The play’s contents resemble a steaming paella – as Healy (literary manager at the Finborough) embraces an ocean’s worth of subjects in 105 minutes of entertaining drama.
Everything from paedophilia (with a twist), intelligent immigrants taking on menial jobs and being despised for doing so, infatuation, lesbianism, sex (in one character’s case, plenty of it) and bloody revenge. It is wildly ambitious, always absorbing and overall quite tasty on the eyes and ears.
Set in Great Yarmouth 2016 and starting at the end with two gentlemen (one a Lithuanian) clearing up the mess after a mass murder, the play is built around the town’s glitter ball room where Ginnie (Jilly Bond) is hosting a 1976 nostalgia night.
Against the backdrop of tunes from the Bee Gees, Bay City Rollers and Brotherhood of Man, Ginnie (wearing high heeled golden boots and figure hugging leather trousers) derides Londoners while stating that the great and groove are firmly back in Great Yarmouth.
But Ginnie has ulterior motives, namely to persuade a former young lover of hers from 40 years ago (Brenda) to come and live with her in a bungalow, complete with two bedrooms and two toilets.
But Brenda (marvellously played by Patience Tomlinson) has spent nearly her whole life chasing ‘cock’ and shows no inclination to revive a fleeting summer relationship that she has long forgotten.
‘I love everyone’s cock,’ she says, while literally bursting out of her blouse and tight jeans – and teetering on her heels. Relationships are not Brenda’s style – she is only interested in quickies despite her advancing age. Indeed, she spends the whole night in pursuit of ‘cock’.
Into the mix is thrown Brenda’s daughter Melody (Joanna Bending), a 39 year old who is smitten by her much older Greek night-school teacher Tony (Rupert Wickham) and is desperate for him to make an appearance at the glitter ball.
Of course, Brenda has no idea who Melody’s father is (Jim Davidson is mentioned among many other candidates) and she is bewildered by the fact that her daughter has yet to consummate the relationship with 59 year old Tony. ‘Is this another Imaginationship?’ asks Brenda.
When he does not initially turn up, Melody ends up having unsatisfactory sex on the beach with eloquent 21 year old Hungarian Attila (a suave Bart Suavek). By training Attila is a marine biologist (but works in a canning factory), wears red trousers, possesses all the dance floor moves and ‘suffers’ from priapism – a condition that naturally is not missed by sex-obsessed Brenda.
‘I was wet only looking at him,’ she exclaims at one stage. Indeed, she spends most of the night trying to get into his red trousers. Lady in Red? Time to move over Chris de Burgh. Man in Red.
There are twists aplenty as Ginnie ends up bribing Brenda on the back of a relationship the heavily tattooed hussy had with a 15 year old boy 40 years ago when she was 19. Yes, that is the paedophilia ingredient of the Great Yarmouth paella.
Tony, as stiff socially as Attila is physically, appears on the scene. Melody and Attila, Melody and Tony, Melody and Attila. More twists and turns than a Tour de France mountain climb.
It all culminates in a bloody end – the play’s start – although we then see the two cleaners, a cheeky dope smoking Baz (John Sackville) and articulate Gediminas (Atilla Akinci) strike up a relationship on the beach.
It is a heady mix which at times stretches the bounds of believability. It is also a little too neat for its own good with all the threads, however loose, eventually joining up. But you cannot help admiring Healy’s febrile mind.
Imaginationship is fun and another bold show from the Finborough celebrating its 150th anniversary. It is neatly directed by Tricia Thorns who never lets the pace drop with a series of short snappy scenes. A triumph given Finborough’s tight space (no room to swing a cat or cook a paella).
Patience Tomlinson’s performance is worth the entrance fee alone with Jilly Bond not far behind. As for the contents of Suavek’s red trousers, they are a little (if you know what I mean) distracting (in a big way).
Baz Canham: John Sackville
Gediminas: Atilla Akinci
Ginnie: Jilly Bond
Brenda: Patience Tomlinson
Melody: Joanna Bending
Attila: Bart Suavek
Tony: Rupert Wickham
Director: Tricia Thorns
Designer: Leigh Malone and Isabella van Braeckel
Imaginationship shows until 27 January.