Be My Bloody Valentine almost makes one feel sorry for those who find themselves desperate enough for companionship that they must reach out to organisations like Friendly Assistance In London, or, as it has become known to some – presumably dissatisfied previous clients and/or the tabloid press – FAIL. This play is almost wholly absurd, serving up a very dark comedy but without even a scintilla of guilt (at least, on my part) about laughing about details in a storyline that would, ordinarily, be quite disturbing, and maybe even worthy of a ‘reconstruction’ on those Crimewatch programmes they used to do on television.
Madame Thénardier (Michèle Belgrand) does not, fortunately, or unfortunately, burst into song, but there’s a feistiness in the character that is shared with her counterpart in Les Misérables, and there is, whichever way proceedings are understood, evidence of criminality. I’ve had to word that carefully: this is not (possible spoiler alert) the same as saying that the evidence necessarily points to her having committed an offence, merely that a criminal act has been carried out, and as far as can be reasonably deduced, she has made an attempt to smuggle this evidence out of the FAIL office without anyone else noticing.
I am, perhaps, being a tad overanalytical. This is, at the end of the day, a comedy, and to dwell too much on narrative points is to miss the overall enjoyment of a play that made the audience laugh heartily and held my attention throughout. Madame’s team members, Grace (Charis King) and Nigel (John-Christian Bateman) express feelings for one another. But, this being St Valentine’s Day, they are expressed in the form of secret admirer cards that go unnoticed on their desks until they tell one another about them.
Add to the mix Ms Van Der Gravenhoven (Susan Hoffman), an unpronounceable name for most of the other characters, because she introduces herself impenetrably rapidly. Madame’s neighbour, she is an eccentric personality who gets on well with Madame so must be tolerated by her staff.
Then there’s an explosive entrance from Julie (Sophie Hughes), related to Grace, seeking refuge from the alleged thuggery of her boyfriend Mickey (Thomas Whitcomb). The only one who actually needs the sort of help from the foundation that it was set up to provide is Beatrice (Joe Pope) – and she does not, without giving it all away, get what she deserves. At least not initially.
There are two doors into the room, although only one is a proper exit as the other serves as the way in and out of the ‘back office’. The limitations of this as far as the genre of ‘farce’ goes is negligible, and the pace is kept brisk enough. There’s not much in the way of character development, and much is made of Madame, expressing herself in French on a regular basis. A ‘phrase book’ is used as a device to provide translations for a London audience, and demonstrates that there are as many idioms and turns of phrases in French as there are in British English. A brief but nonetheless delightful play.
Review by Chris Omaweng
It’s Valentine’s Day and at the headquarters of Friendship Assistance In London, Grace and Nigel are preparing for a night spent helping those in need of a friend. As the evening unfolds, the desperate and deranged that make up F.A.I.L.’s staff and clientele vie for each other’s affections, culminating in the most romantic gesture of all: Murder.
Be My Bloody Valentine this February with Allez Hop! Theatre. A brand new black comedy with a body count only one shy of Al Capone’s St Valentine’s Day Massacre. Be My Bloody Valentine is the first show from Allez Hop! Theatre, a new international theatre company based in London.
John-Christian Bateman as Nigel
Michèle Belgrand as Mrs Thénardier
Susan Hoffman as Ms Van Der Gravenhoven
Sophie Hughes as Julie
Charis King as Grace
Joe Pope as Béatrice
Thomas Witcomb as Mickey
Directors: Sophie Hughes
Adaptation and writing: Ed Hartland in collaboration with Michèle Belgrand
Original Concept: Michèle Belgrand
Production & Artistic Director: Michèle Belgrand (with the help of all cast)
Stage design & props: Michèle Belgrand & Sophie Hughes
Sound & Lights: Michèle Belgrand & Sophie Hughes
Costumes: All cast
Booking to 10th February 2018
Drayton Arms Theatre