One Summer and Dear Box Number

Nancy Banks-Smith Guardian 8.8.1983

RAYMOND MASSEY described a painful encounter with Bernard Shaw, who was vetting the cast of St Joan. Confronting the young Massey, craggy, one suspects even in the cradle, Shaw said: “But Brother Martin was good looking!' Massey was, years later, magnanimous: “He had a right to be like that."

Whether writers have a right to be like that is, like how pole vaulters get their poles on a bus, one of those questions which could detain us indefinitely. That they are like that is not debatable. Shaw's stage directions indicate that St Joan should have big and bulging eyes but nowhere suggest that Brother Martin is handsome. He just saw him as good looking and that, for Massey, was that.

Willy Russell disowned Yorkshire 's production of his five part play One Summer (Channel 4). He saw, apparently, the two boys as younger and the play itself as harder. Crying in effect 'never call me mother more" he look his name off the credits, leaving Yorkshire to publicise it mysteriously as "by the author of Educating Rita."

One Summer is about two Liverpool boys, Billy and Icky, who run away to Wales . Billy has a green and gentle memory of the place, and where Billy goes Icky goes too. The name Billy Rizley is near enough to Willy Russell to suggest he may have written some of his heart into this part.

That they are still school-boys, though rarely at school, is important to the sense of the story. Billy trying to buy two tickets to Wales and Icky buying two girlie magazines, half a dozen Yorkies, and a dozen Mars bars for the journey, suggest that they are, however you slice them, 16.

David Morrissey and Spencer Leigh, who play the boys, make very creditable first appearances on television: Billy pulling a film of arrogant boredom over his face like a nylon stocking and Icky always at his shoulder squawking like a parrot. Leigh's mixture of comedy and pathos was, I thought particularly promising. They are. however, 19 and 20 years old.

"You're the kid in this house. Just some short-arsed kid that knows nuttin," shrieked Billy's sister. She had to shriek because he loomed some distance above her. He is taller than most policemen you meet. With their hats on. On their horses. He could evidently drive all comers into the ground like tent pegs and, as they all look up to him, probably has.

The dialogue of illiterate boys in the mouths of young men implies they are mentally retarded and that is quite another kind of play. This sort of casting happens — look at Ewan in Grey Granite: as ravaged a teenager as ever had to beat up a bus conductor to persuade him he was entitled to travel half fare — but it makes life harder for the viewer.

Billy and lcky's Liverpool is wild, treacherous, serrated. A place of compulsive theft, as persistent as a tick, and sudden, savage pursuit. A hard world but as Robert Keegan puts it ; " Robbed soft." It must stand comparison with formidably excellent productions like Central's series of David Leland plays.

The only moments in One Summer which took me by the throat were the amazing greys of Liverpool , cranes dissolving in the distance, and lamp-posts standing on one leg, fishing in the mist. It is, however, well worth staying with One Summer partly because it's not that bad and partly because, at the weekend, everything else is.

Central, however, are persevering with a series of single plays throughout the summer. In Dear Box Number, Walter has the idea of keeping several would - be

- wives dangling, competing to offer him bed and board, until he decides which one to lead to the altar.

I don't, as Americans say, believe this. As she has already patented the part in Guys and Dolls of a person awaiting a proposal, one can perhaps swallow Julia MeKenzie, round and sweet as an irresistible rascal and woman waiting impatiently to say " this is so sudden." But do you see Bernard Hepton as an irresistible rascal and bon viveur? He seems to me to have the cool, tall look of a man wearing a small ice cap on his head like a tonsure.

Is it conceivable that a woman would put Mr Hepton's trousers down the rubbish chute having, reluctantly, rejected the idea of hi-jacking his false teeth? Cold sweat bedews the brow, like a melting ice cap. I wouldn't dare.

Dear Box Number was worth a look though just to watch Mr Hepton and Miss McKenzie listening. It was like watching a pair of ears prick up on an intelligent dog. " Learn to listen." said Charlie Chaplin. Mr Hepton and Miss McKenzie could give lessons.

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