BWW Review: I DO! I DO! Upstairs at the Gatehouse
In his celebrated poem, Annus Mirabilis, Philip Larkin wrote -
"Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything."
Tom Jones (not that one) and Harvey Schmidt's I Do! I Do! dates from just after Please Please Me, but its roots lie in the 1951 play, The Fourposter, and its setting dates from as many years ago again. "The bargaining and wrangling" for the ring may be done, but that's just the start of our couple's journey through the travails of matrimony.
This production may have an updated book, with a more 21st century approach to female agency, but the story still casts marriage in a sepia tinted nostalgia, traditional gender roles defined, traditional er... "accommodations" made.
And those old-fashioned certainties prove to be no bad thing!
Theatre should challenge social conventions - and it often does - but there's room for some comfortable entertainment too. This musical delivers that gentle pleasure with just enough grit in the oyster to hold the saccharine levels in check.
We first meet Agnes (Agnes!) and Michael on their wedding night, as they fumble and tumble towards doin' what comes naturally and soon children arrive, then anxieties, then conflict, then reconciliation and ultimately acceptance. This time lapse photograph of a marriage lasts some 50 years, and couples / ex-couples will feel the spark of recognition at the squabbles (and make-ups) on show. We've all been there - or thereabouts. Or we will be.
Gemma Maclean and Ben Morris are our happy - unhappy - happy pair, singing well to a beautifully balanced single piano (Henry Brennan, a suitably enigmatic smile playing about his lips). They have plenty of heavy lifting to do, as there's just the two of them, Michael getting corpulent and complacent, Agnes frustrated and fearless. It's all terribly white, straight and middle class, but Broadway (maybe mainstream entertainment) was in 1966.
Maclean nails her big solo numbers, especially a raunchy "Flaming Agnes" and an introspective "What Is A Woman?" and the tunes are never less than pleasing, if just a little short of the 11 o'clock number the score needs to really bring it to fourth base.
Which rather sums up the show - it's no Hamilton, but still a pleasing diversion on a cold dark night. And, as I wrote above, in such fraught times as these, that's no bad thing.