The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


SEARCH CurtainUp



Etcetera and
Short Term Listings



LA/San Diego






Free Updates
NYC Weather
A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Rattle of a Simple Man
by Brian Clover

I'm no good with women. I'm everything the French laugh at in Englishmen.
--- Percy
Rattle of a Simple Man
Michelle Collins as Cyrenne and Stephen Tompkinson as Percy
(Photo: Nobby Clark)
A woman and a man enter a tiny apartment, dominated by a double bed. She is a worldly-wise London "hostess". He is an innocent from the provinces she has just picked up. She is Cyrenne - the Siren - and he is Percival - Parsifal - so we can expect a classic encounter between the experienced and the innocent. Will they get to use the bed?

This might seem an unlikely question today when no one is innocent and we are used to seeing all kinds of intimacy on the stage. But Rattle of a Simple Man was first produced in 1962, when taboos were much stronger: it must have seemed quite daring then. For the first act our pair dances around the mattress in a clumsy quadrille of attraction and repulsion without ever actually lying down on it. Forty years ago this must have caused agonies to the official censor and ecstasies in the audience, as well as pangs of frustration for both. But the censor is long gone - the Lord Chamberlain, he was called. What can he be doing now? - and audiences are used to stronger stuff.

The piece was probably revived as a vehicle for East Enders soap star Michelle Collins. In fact the real problem for the two characters is not casual sex, but chronic loneliness. But Cyrenne and Percy's awkward progress towards a genuine relationship does give us the chance to see Ms Collins in a nice array of costumes. She is constantly changing these, on and off-stage. The opportunity of seeing her in items of revealing black underwear, with names missing from my vocabulary, may well be enough to draw her many fans to the Comedy and guarantee the play a long run.

Collins plays Cyrenne, the cool professional whose practised cynicism is a brittle shell masking a damaged little girl. As befits a soap queen, Michelle Collins does wide-eyed, knuckle-biting passion very well. In the second act she brings real power to the tense scene with her brother, with its hints of pain and incest. Unfortunately she is not so good at the comic rhythms needed for the rest of the play, although, to be fair, she isn't really helped by Charles Dyer's often clunky script.

Stephen Tompkinson, an actor with superb comic skills, is much better as the naïve football fan from Manchester, out of his depth in wicked London. He moves with ease from rattle-waving drunken bravado to hung-over remorse to tender vulnerability, hinting at the tragedy of an unfulfilled life. But can he really persuade us he's a 42 year old virgin who lives with his parents? A man who can say he is a scoutmaster without a hint of irony? A man who can believe for a moment that Cyrenne is a brigadier's daughter? Well, he does his best.

It's not that Rattle of a Simple Man is too dated for us, rather that the central relationship is never really believable and finally veers towards sentimentality. However a glow of nostalgia fills the theatre, greatly helped by Robert Jones's clever set, as we are reminded of a time when a grown man could blush to hear the word "bottom", when blue cheese was the height of culinary daring, when Britain had a manufacturing industry, and when Dusty Springfield topped the pops. But nostalgia is not enough and towards the end of the evening the question we're asking is not, Will they use that bed? but, Do we really care?

Rattle of a Simple Man
Written by Charles Dyer
Directed by John Caird

Starring: Michelle Collins and Stepehn Tompkinson
With: Nick Fletcher
Designer: Robert Jones
Lighting Designer: Chris Davey
Sound: John Leonard
Running time: Two hours 20 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6622
Booking to 28th August 2004.
Reviewed by Brian Clover based on 12th May 2004 performance at the Comedy Theatre, Panton Street London SW1 (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
London Theatre Walks

Mendes at the Donmar
Our Review

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook
London Sketchbook

Tales From Shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
Our Review

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

©Copyright 2004, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from