Alistair Foot and Anthony Marriott’s farce No Sex Please, We’re British premiered in London’s West End in 1971. It was unanimously panned by critics, although it played to full houses until 1987 at three theaters in London. When the show crossed the pond to Broadway in 1973, American audiences did not receive it well; it ran for only 16 performances.
The story surrounds an assistant bank manager, Peter Hunter, played by Dash Samari, who lives in a flat above his bank with his new bride Frances, portrayed by Kelly Dobkins. Frances innocently sends off a mail-order for some Scandinavian glassware, but Scandinavian pornography is what comes back. The two, along with the bank’s frantic chief cashier Brian Runnicles, must decide what to do with the veritable floods of pornography, photographs, books, films and eventually hookers that threaten to engulf this happy couple. The matter is considerably complicated by the presence of Eleanor (Peter’s mother), Mr. Bromhead (his boss), Mr. Needham (a visiting bank inspector) and Vernon Paul (a police superintendent).
Performing farce properly is much harder than acting ordinary comedy. The difficulty is that absurd situations must be believable. As the characters make choices about what they will do, the audience, too, must believe those choices are reasonable. As the plot proceeds in Kensington Arts Theatre’s production, the actors seem unable to convey an atmosphere that allows for the natural progression of silly desperation; instead, it seems forced.
For instance, Peter’s mother, Eleanor, played by Jill Vanderweit, attempts to bring the audience along with her, but her too-frequent gestures seem ineffective and unreasonable. Stephen Swift’s depiction of Eleanor’s wining-and-dining suitor, Mr. Bromhead, is unremarkable.
Ladies of the evening, Kristen Scott as Barbara and Alison Starr as Susan, seem to wrestle with their accents. Moreover, the appearance of Ken Kemp’s backside as Mr. Needham seems less about naughty good humor than about gratuitousness.
The show’s bright spot exists in the character of Brian Runnicles, played by Noah Steurer, who pulls off a handful of the physical comedy bits with some success, and his accent is spot on. The great lengths he attempts to go to in disposing of the pornographic items was a strong point of the script.
Set Designer Bill Kassay and Set Dresser Malca Gilbin convey the idea of a 1970s London flat, but the use of an intercom system proved a bit awkward and obvious when the actors were sometimes literally standing behind the set wall to deliver the messages that were to come through it.
Unfortunately, while this production has all the fun things found in shows like this — including slamming doors, pratfalls, wild gestures, and mistaken identities — the comic timing wasn’t as sharp as it could have been, and many of the laughs were lost. The cast was more cohesive when all on stage together. While they tried to achieve a sense of rhythm and move the plot along, it was just too long and lost momentum.
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.