Three Stars out of Five Stars
Priding himself to have once been ‘the most eligible bachelor in Bolton’, Joe is one of three million unemployed in the 1920s who is who is desperately struggling to support his family in the midst of an economic crisis.
The first Act of the play introduces its fundamentally whimsical tone; while his need to go out and look for work retains the sombre backdrop to the piece, Joe’s overriding temptation to return to bed with his wife takes precedence and ensures that the play is immediately declared to be a comedy. From the outset, it appears to simply be an enactment of the trials and tribulations of a man attempting to resist his most carnal desires. While the jokes throughout the first half are both tender and numerous, they do point to the somewhat older target audience. It was certainly entertaining, but I can’t quite say that the overtly sexual humour reduced me to tears in the same way that it did some of the older members of the audience.
However, as the play progresses it develops in substance. The introduction of third character, an elderly man who is immediately recognisable to the audience as an aged Joe from the future, adds a surfeit of sentimentality. This is clearly an attempt to counterbalance the flippant nature of the comedy that has held dominance thus far. However, although his words of wisdom throughout the play add a feel-good factor, the pursuit of dramatic irony in the protagonist’s refusal to recognise him causes his character to ultimately become a little bit annoying.
It is only in the more serious moments of tension in the second half of the play that power is truly achieved in the representation of the couple’s hardships. It is impossible not to be moved by the most heated of the arguments between the couple, and Nicholas Shaw presents a heartbreaking performance of Joe, a man who has been subjected to the pains of intense manual labour. The heavy focus on the Bolton area serves here to develop his character through his fierce regional loyalty, making up for the audience’s tricky adjustment to the thick Northern accents at the start of the play. The suitably suggestive ending then neatly references back to the light-hearted tone at the start, ensuring that the audience leaves regarding the couple with fondness.
The play might never be internationally acclaimed, but ‘Lighthearted Intercourse’ captures the spirit of the region and ensures that Bill Naughton prevails as ‘Bolton’s greatest playwright’.
Lighthearted Intercourse runs at The Bolton Octagon until November 3rd.