If You Please

“A declaration of love is met with the words “a cloud of milk in a cup of tea”…” HANNAH QUIN on a French Dada-Surrealist play that reminds her of a conversation in Life. In a good way.

hannah quin if you please joey tribbiani jon porter olivia stocker

ADC, Thu 22nd – Sat 24th Nov, £6/£5

Dir. Fred Ward

Coherence. Narrative structure. Any idea at all what’s going on. You might think these are pretty basic requirements of a great play, but If You Please is here to prove you wrong. This is a play where a declaration of love is met with the words “a cloud of milk in a cup of tea” and the fourth act – well, let’s just say it’s cut short. Very short.

The aforementioned lack of narrative makes it slightly tricky to give a summary, but as an intrepid Tab reviewer, I’m going to give it a go regardless of how foolish I look when I inevitably misinterpret something. Basically, there’s three (sort of four) acts: a man and his mistress, a detective’s office, and a man and woman in a bar. They parody genres, turning tradition on its head by mixing the melodrama of a love scene or the stock characters of a detective story, with unexpected twists, poetic musings, and a whole lot of non-sequiturs.

Logic, as you might expect from a French Dada-Surrealist play, isn’t really the order of the day. What’s served up instead is a fast paced whirl of strange comedy, and it is, if you’ll allow me to push this strained restaurant metaphor too far, pretty tasty.

For me, the highlight of the night was the second act, set in a detective’s office. Inspector L’Étoile with his penchant for unfounded accusations was played brilliantly by Jon Porter, but it was Olivia Stocker as the secretary typing away in the background who stole the scene and got the biggest laughs of the night. To wildly paraphrase Joey Tribbiani, acting is all about reacting: it was certainly one of the major strengths of this production.

Good acting is of course important in any play, but a play like this, more than any other, is totally at the mercy of the actors. If you don’t believe in the characters, you’re definitely not going to accept the nonsense they’re talking. The third act, for example, consists of conversation between a man and a woman, except – well, can it be called a conversation if every sentence is a total non-sequitur? I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, yeah – I’ve been to Life, sounds pretty standard,” but trust me, it’s weirder than that.

Yes. I know. It’s a lot to take in. But this is where the acting is so vital, and for the most part, it was spot on. Somehow Will Allen’s performance made me forget that the words he was saying made no real sense.  Whereas the intention behind some of the other monologues got lost in a gabble of words, here it all just seemed to mean something.

What that something was, I’ll admit I don’t quite know. But – and this applies to the play as a whole – I actually enjoyed not knowing. If You Please is an hour spent in a theatre with no idea what’s happening except that you’re enjoying yourself. Just try to forget all those terribly bourgeois notions of logic, and laugh.