Kiss Me Honey, Honey!
4 stars ****
Gilded Balloon (Venue 14)
THINGS ARE OFTEN tough, on this year’s Fringe theatre circuit; not because the shows are not good, interesting, inspiring, but because the themes are often so serious – war, intolerance, pervasive vioence against women – that laughter is rare, and lightheartedness hard to find. So it’s something of a joy to come across a brand new Scottish-made play by Philip Meeks, produced and presented by the Gilded Balloon, which spins some real, belly-laughing comedy out of some of the tragedies and stresses of early 21st-century life, without losing sight of the human pain at the centre of the story.
So in Kiss Me Honey, Honey!, beloved Edinburgh panto stars Andy Gray and Grant Stott play two middle-aged men, Ross and Graham, who – in a faintly Little Britain-ish update of the Odd Couple scenario – move into neighbouring rooms in a dodgy downmarket bed-and-breakfast, after assorted life events including divorce and bereavement have evicted them from the middle-class lifestyle to which they once aspired.
Brought together by a shared retro passion for the voice and style of Shirley Bassey, they begin to share their hopes, fears, and quest for new love. And with Gray and Stott donning ever more absurd wigs and hats to play the gallery of women they meet along the way, and Meek’s jokes spinning fast and furious from the lips of two of Scotland’s most seasoned comic performers, the audience is soon helpless with laughter, as Ross and Graham confess their own eccentricities (Graham has a couple of guinea pigs living under his bed), and reel with shock at some of the goings-on on today’s internet-driven middle-aged dating scene.
Gray and Stott are both considerable actors, though; and this is a show that has something truthful and poignant to say about 21st century men bereft of jobs and families, and struggling to start again, at 50, amid a minefield of pornographic imagery and trashy recreational sex. The plot eventually becomes too bizarre by half, the comedy occasionally self-indulgent. But this is a display of dazzling comic skill in the service of a story that is far from daft; and it will make you laugh, until you cry.