Inspired by his memories of growing up in South East London, Michael Head’s Worth a Flutter is an enjoyable comedy with hidden depths – a love story whose protagonists are simultaneously too flawed to be heroes and too likeable to be villains.
The plot follows two men, Matt (Michael Head) and Sam (Jack Harding), as they compete for the affections of a waitress at their local greasy spoon cafe. The twist: both are already in committed but unhappy relationships, and are basically just using the unfortunate Helen (Clare McNamara) as an escape from their current misery. But then things get complicated when they both fall for her, and she’s forced to choose between them. Or is she?
As the story unfolds, Head challenges both the questionable attitudes of his male characters and the traditional damsel in distress paradigm, with Helen emerging as more than capable of looking after herself. What makes the play interesting is that both Matt and Sam seem like decent enough blokes, who both recognise and challenge the outrageous sexism displayed by their cartoonishly obnoxious friends – but both fail to see the same, less explicit, attitudes in themselves.
Michael Head, Jack Harding and Clare McNamara are all strong in the central roles, delivering some enjoyable comedy performances but also revealing their characters’ vulnerabilities as each relives a past trauma which has played a part in bringing them to this point. They’re joined by Paul Danan and Lucy Pinder in a variety of supporting roles. Pinder makes her stage debut playing both Matt’s fiancée Paige and Sam’s wife Emma, but is perhaps most memorable for her exuberant portrayal of a penis with a Scottish accent (yes, really). Danan, meanwhile, is clearly enjoying himself immensely as ageing Lothario Paul and pervy pensioner Mr Edwards.
Directed by Jonathon Carr, the play has a choppy structure that sees the action interrupted frequently by scenes of direct narration from Matt or Sam, with both Head and Harding quickly establishing a connection with the audience. There are also some surreal sketch scenes – including the aforementioned Scottish penis – which are largely superfluous to the story, but are good fun and give the actors a chance to demonstrate their comedy talents (Clare McNamara’s outspoken grandpa and Michael Head’s parade of exes – each of them conveniently from a different bit of the UK – particularly stand out).
Like most romantic comedies, the story relies heavily on coincidence and characters impulsively falling in love and making life-changing decisions. But if the plot is at times simplistic and the comedy a bit silly, the play does shine a light on the prevalence of everyday sexism, even from “nice guys”, and the three central characters have interesting backstories which add new layers of meaning to the plot. Recommended for light-hearted entertainment; if not quite a dead cert, then certainly a strong contender.
Worth a Flutter is at The Hope Theatre until 19th May.
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