A patina of 70’s sitcom conceals a heartfelt new comedy by Philip Meeks. The boarding house setting, cast of oddball characters and mordant humour have the whiff of Rising Damp, but though Meeks is clearly a lover of the great British half hour, Kiss Me Honey, Honey! has its own rhythms of campery and gloom.
Ross and Graham are new tenants in a clapped out flop-house populated by recently divorced prospective suicides. They’re both at sea, both alone and shifting uncomfortably into a new period of misery in their lives. There’s a thin partition between their rooms, and when the strains Graham’s Shirley Bassey record seeps through it, a shared love of the Welsh warbler draws them together. Meeks’ play is the story of their unlikely friendship, and their attempts to shuck off the memories of their pasts and start new lives with new loves.
Andy Gray and Grant Stott turn in wonderful performances as Ross and Graham, but the biggest laughs come from their embodiment of the dozen or so women who move through their lives. From licentious boarding house proprietors to randy vicars, they’re a gruesome selection and performed with gurning aplomb. Many of the supporting ‘cast’ are olayed by both Gray and Stott in turn, and it’s a delight to watch their differing attempts at Meeks’ absurd clutch of characters. It also leads to a great, frantic conclusion as Gray flits relentlessly between wigs and hats as the play’s cosy mystery is unravelled.
There’s also a recurrent thread exploring Ross and Graham’s dislocation from modern sexual mores. Much of the running time is given over to their attempts to beat the dating game, and finding that from speed dating to the dogging circuit, new liberalised attitudes to sex and sexuality leave them somewhat at sea. Like Bassey’s velvet voice, their own passions are locked in a more innocent age, and the assurances of the lives they have left behind were crucial anchors for their happiness.
There’s a sense in which the humour of Kiss Me Honey, Honey! is rather dated, but as the success of shows such as Miranda and Mrs Brown’s Boys has demonstrated, there’s still a considerable appetite for it, across the age demographic. Meeks’ play is better than both, and in scenes such as those exploring Ross’s alcoholism or the truth behind Graham’s past it displays considerable humanity and depth of character. If you find cross-dressing grotesques and ‘ohh, matron’ camp a complete turn-off, however, then you’re unlikely to enjoy it as much as the raucous local audience that are currently packing out the Gilded Balloon.