Reviewed by Catherine Joyce
Last night, I took my husband to The Dukes theatre in Lancaster where we had a fantastic night watching the hilarious play Gym & Tonic. Situated in the centre of Lancaster it is really easy to get to and there is plenty of parking nearby. It is a lovely little theatre and they have some great plays and shows there. The Round theatre, where the play was performed, is an intimate performance space and has an amazing knack of being able to transform into a huge variety of scenes with minimal props. Last night’s performance was set in health resort and the simple set consisting of a few rattan easy chairs and pot plants set the scene perfectly. The lighting was subdued and gave a relaxed and comfortable feel.
Set in Scardale Hall Health Farm the play opens with a Tai Chi class which Shirley enthusiastically takes part in, we can tell straight away that Don is not quite so keen and this sets the scene for the rest of the play. Shirley is determined to take advantage of all the facilities and have a great time whereas Don is constantly thinking how much the stay is costing and struggles to relax, despite the luxurious surroundings.
The actors gave really great performances, I know exactly how Don (Peter McMillan) was feeling about a stay at a health resort – my husband was just the same when we had a weekend away at a health spa a few years ago! Stephanie Hackett as Shirley was also really convincing, she obviously wanted to enjoy the experience but sometimes felt that she didn’t really belong there. As the play unfolds we discover that both characters have regrets about how their lives have panned out. Shirley still hopes that they can get over their differences and save their marriage whereas Don doesn’t really seem that interested. Both characters were obviously looking for change but it becomes increasingly apparent that they perhaps don’t want the same thing.
There are two other members of the cast, Robert Angell, who plays Ken, and Jacqueline Naylor who plays Gertrude. Ken is the owner of a successful construction business, he is confident, sporty and a complete contrast to Don, perhaps Shirley hopes that Don could be just a little more like him? Gertrude is an eccentric old lady who seems to live at the health spa and who doesn’t mind what she says or to who. Her unsolicited and forthright advice ends up pulling apart the couple and their already fragile marriage.
The play is very definitely a comedy. The night was full of laughs both in the well written script and the performances – Chloe’s deadpan declaration “It’s only the face today” to Don’s stripping down to his underpants was brilliant! I also liked the picnic scene, after spending time at a health spa my husband was desperate for some proper food and whilst we didn’t go to quite the same lengths as Don we could really empathise with him.
Our only criticism of the story was the rather abrupt ending to the play which in our opinion didn’t fit well with the rest of the story. Don and Shirley were nearing the end of the stay and we were waiting to see what would become of their relationship and … they went home. We would have liked something with a little more closure.
Despite the disappointing ending we really enjoyed watching this play; it was a good story and kept our interest all the way through. There was plenty of laughter and I would certainly recommend that you have a brief stay at the Scardale Hall Health Farm. The play is at the Dukes until the 12th October.
Tickets cost from £7.50 to £18 (booking fees may apply).
Gym & Tonic is at The Dukes in Lancaster from 9-12 October 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.dukes-lancaster.org or call the box office on 01524 598500.
The Dukes, Moor Lane, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1 1QE | 01524 598500