NF Simpson’s A Resounding Tinkle premiered at the Royal Court a year after Look Back in Anger, but British Absurdism pretty much got washed down the kitchen sink in theatre, as realism and politics occupied writers into the sixties and onwards. How refreshing, then, to see a celebration of the genre at the Donmar. Absurdism developed much more recognisably on television and radio – from Peter Cook to Vic Reeves and the Mighty Boosh – and it has never deserted the quintessential British sense of humour. However, this evening is sadly lacking in laughs. Both Tinkle and Simpson’s second piece, Gladly Otherwise, resemble rather twee curios. Though they are not without wit and invention, there is something a little tame and innocent about them and as such they may fail to win many new fans.
Peter Capaldi and Judith Scott play Bro and Middie Paradock in A Resounding Tinkle, delivered of an oversized elephant. The resistance to plot and meaning in itself is delightful but this still feels like a dated sitcom. Vicki Mortimer’s set cleverly falls down like a pack of cards to reveal Capaldi and Scott in a second sixties-style house for the brief sketch Gladly Otherwise, where they are joined by John Hodgkinson enquiring about their door handles. Hodgkinson takes control of the piece as he turns inquisitor – “You don’t need a husband to hold the floorboards down – that’s what nails are for”. This is the brightest section.
Michael Frayn’s newly penned The Crimson Hotel, featuring Capaldi and Lyndsey Marshal, takes on the conventions of a Feydeau farce and pushes them into surreal, metaphysical territory. Unfortunately, it is ultimately tedious and the least amusing part of the evening, asking to be applauded more for its technical invention than anything else. There is great promise here, but the payoff just isn’t delivered. At its best, Absurdism challenges the human condition and provokes questioning. This collection falls short of that.