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Performing Arts: REVIEW: Rattle Of A Simple Man ***; Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold.

Byline: Gail Cooper

Poet Philip Larkin famously remarked that sex began in 1963, which was rather late for him. Forty years on, it's hard to remember how buttoned-up people still were in the early `60s when sexuality polarised the female population into nice girls who ``didn't'' - at least without a ring on that all-important finger - and women who, well, provided an essential ``service'' for their clients. The relationship between men and prostitutes, with its combination of the confessional and the bordello, has long fascinated writers, and Charles Dyer's Rattle of a Simple Man, written in the `60s, is a play that has stood the test of time. This touring production by the Nuffield Theatre Company is directed by Patrick Sandford, and features two faces familiar from TV's Casualty and The Bill. Clive Mantle plays Percy, a big, bashful Northern mill-worker who lives with his mum and gets off the leash for a football match in London, where his mates bet him pounds 50 he won't sleep with a prostitute. He goes home with Cyrenne, played by Samantha Robson, to her pink plush and nylon basement boudoir, and the couple find themselves facing alien cultures in which even the language fails at first to communicate between them. But as the evening progresses, they discover sur-prising points of contact that uncover layers of personality beneath the perceived stereotypes of tart and punter. Mantle, better known as dishy and confident con-sultant Mike Barrett in Casualty, is cast completely against type as Percy, the 42-year-old virgin who admits to being only 35. His body language is superb: awkward, self-effacing, obsessively tidy - Coronation Street fans should think Roy Cropper if they want to imagine the sort of man Percy is. Robson is also cast against type, as you might know her better as PC Vicky Hagen in The Bill. She displays a multi-talented, sparky, fizzing energy as the girl who has turned every trick, seen every punter, embroidered every story about her life with copious lies, and yet still has the capacity to be moved by her latest, unlikely customer. Dyer's script manages to balance perfectly the humour and pathos of the situation in which these two emotionally crippled characters find themselves; she's touchy and cynical, he's tense and repressed. Percy's friends describe him as suffering from ``everything the French laugh at in the English'' as he's shy, sexually naive, and uptight. His fists clench, his face contorts into awful grimaces, and he finds relief in making tea and washing up rather than sex. Cyrenne bursts with manic energy, by turns playful, predatory, feline and manipulative; dancing with the cheval mirror, while parrying his bizarre questions about her life. But the tenderness grows between them.

The double-hander is briefly interrupted by the arrival of a third character, Ricky (Steve Brownlie) at a crucial point which enables the audience to see more of Cyrenne's real h s ory.

But for the most part the drama and comedy is sustained and carried with consummate ease by the two main actors.

It proved an enjoyable evening, despite my fears that they would have difficulty keeping it up, and the small audience was highly appreciative of their performances.# The production runs until tomorrow. The box office number is 0845 330 3565.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 25, 2003
Words:542
Previous Article:Performing Arts: PREVIEW: Boogie Nights ***; Richmond Theatre, London, Monday until Saturday.
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