Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.
Cash … Paul Merton
Maria … Caroline Quentin
With: Nicholas Tizzard, Sarah Parkinson.
There will always be a place on the West End for plays like “Live Bed Show,” and maybe that’s not a bad thing. A 90-minute comedy about relations between the sexes, Arthur Smith’s 1989 Edinburgh Festival hit never pauses to consider the mysteries of love if it can get off a one-liner (or more) about sex. (Want to know the weight of an average penis? This play tells you.) Its ideal audience, presumably, is men on a stag-night outing who want an undemanding evening in the company of two TV stars before they repair to the local curry house for a boozy meal.
As it happens, its TV personality draws — real-life marrieds Paul Merton and Caroline Quentin — are the raison d’etre of the show, and one can imagine “Live Bed Show” attracting similar thespian couples the world over who wouldn’t be caught dead in the genteel confines of “Love Letters.”
Merton, a large, stocky man, plays Cash, seen — as the curtain rises — in bed alongside his wife, Maria (Quentin). It’s Tuesday, but Cash is still plodding away at the Sunday papers, joking that though he’s 35, he “looks 42 and feels 14.” The double bed divides, and the history of their nine-year relationship unfolds, from their meeting at a costume party, where they both wore pajamas, through various spats, holidays, celibacy and confessions of infidelity.
Smith had a West End hit with his previous show, “An Evening With Gary Lineker,” and he writes affectionately for a duo capable of dismissing a menu in Lanzarote (Canary Islands’ airport) as “a photo album of cheeseburgers.” And unlike John Godber’s “April in Paris”– last year’s play about Eros, English-style –“Live Bed Show” never patronizes its characters: Cash and Maria are a would-be Everycouple, whose frustrations are common to us all even if their way with a quip is uncommonly sharp.
Still, short as it is, the play seems too long, and it takes all the finesse the actors can muster to sustain interest down to the last riposte. Luckily, they are endearing — the short, spry Quentin, especially — as are the checked duvet cover and striped pajamas that lend what scant color there is to Bethia Jane Green’s design.
Interestingly, “Live Bed Show” was directed by a woman, Audrey Cooke, when it is clearly a man’s play.
It’s no accident that Cash tells us more than once how much he loves pubs, since that’s where most of the Cashes in the audience will be found after the show.