FRED AND MADGE Hope Theatre, Islington


by A.N.Onymous (The Critic Who Knows)



Calling all ordinary, decent folk. Edna Welthorpe (Mrs) here!   I am on a brief return trip to London from the very select part of Purgatory where I have been stationed (pedestal mat, Teasmade, and a tip-top Ewbank ever to hand). They make you fill out forms in which you have to specify how would like “your” Heaven to be when you eventually get there. I told them that, for me, it would be a world in which the office of the Lord Chamberlain has been fully reintroduced. Restore the blue pencil to manly hands that have seen active service, and going to the theatre with the family would no longer be fraught with risk. You and your loved ones wouldn’t always feel just an inch away from involuntary immersion in the crazed extremes of phallus-worship.

Someone at HQ in Purgatory must have been going through my files. They noticed that I had felt obliged, in the 1960s, to despatch several stiff letters of complaint about the works of Joe Orton. “I myself was nauseated by this endless parade of mental and physical perversion perversion!” is how I confided my disgust at Entertaining Mr Sloane to the Daily Telegraph. When Loot came out, I added that “these plays do nothing but harm our image abroad, presenting us as the slaves of sensation and unnatural practice”.


A person by the name of Libby Purves, who reviews theatre, sprained her ankle last Thursday while attempting to rush to an opening night. I can just picture her – tottering on five inch heels, weighed down by department store bags. If you live that way, what can you expect? The production turns out to be the world premiere of Fred and Madge, a previously unperformed play, written in 1959 by my old sparring partner, Joe Orton.As part of my remission programme, I have been sent back to earth for the penitential purpose of “standing in” for Mrs Purves. One night only. The prospect of cleaning the bathroom facilities after a Roman orgy would plunge me into the dumps less.


Fred and Madge, though, has some surprises in store. Moaning minnies, Fred and Madge (Jake Curran and Jodyanne Richardson) are an “absurdist” attack on the conformity that some us of us see as the cement of civilisation. The couple have a daughter called Janice ,who is a hygiene buff and over-taxes her strength practising for a carpet-beating exam. This character never appears – though, in my view, she should be central. It was the cleaning company I felt for most after the uncalled-for circumstances of Orton’s death in Islington’s Noel Road : just a hop, skip and a jump from the little fringe pub where this premiere has been mounted.


In the bar during the interval and afterwards, glowing praise for the play and Mary Franklin’s production was rife. I overheard one young woman saying that “the increasing suspicion that there is nothing beyond the theatre reminds me of The Truman Show”. I myself was reminded of Private Lives in the scene where the divorced Fred and Madge re-encounter each other in neighbouring hospital beds, having sustained accidents on their way to their second weddings. The audience seemed to be doubled up by Geordie Wright as a very hirsute and leggy Queenie, the character whose nuptials to an Indian occasion the wholesale, elephant-ride fantasy escape to shift to the Palace of the Mogul at Sutpura. And by “the sly Audrey Hepburn charms” (overheard comment) of Loz Keystone, as the chief “insultrix” of the bunch of professional insulters.



I’m afraid that I couldn’t enjoy their performances. The view of hairy legs popping out a frock is not my idea of good night out. Fred and Madge, though, is probably the least sick-making of Orton’s works. After this, it was downhill all the way.

Box office 0207 478 0160 To October 18

Rating; four 4 Meece Rating


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