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Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

The sinister and depraved goings-on behind the polite conformity of the suburbs has long been an inspiration for writers. Now stand-up Matthew Osborn has contributed his two penn'orth to the genre with this sinister and funny, if slightly limited, play for the Comedians’ Theatre Company.

If the housewives are desperate, Cul-De-Sac shows what the husbands are up to. Tim is a new arrival to the Close from the urban jungle, seeking a simpler life in a place where everybody knows your name and crime is low.

But from his very first conversation over the garden fence with neighbour Nigel, it soon becomes clear that the Cul-De-Sac is run like Daily Mail Island – it’s a place where for the sake of safety and comfort, everyone must be compliant with the most petty of social conventions (who parks cars on the road?) while the emphasis is very much on keeping out the ‘wrong sort’: to wit Poles, Muslims and ‘deviants’. The allegory isn’t too subtle, as fear, however unjustified, leads to tyranny. Everyone’s so afraid of what’s outside their world to realise that the threat really comes from within.

This message is played out over a series of increasingly surreal comedy sketches in which Tim – an everyman gracefully played by comedian Alan Francis – gradually becomes absorbed into the Borg-like hive of the Cul-De-Sac. Meanwhile Nigel (the very watchable Mike Hayley) initially mild-mannered, becomes an increasingly violent and even sexual being. The blame for this lies at the door of local GP Dr Cole, an intense raging sociopath, a role that allows the menacing Toby Longworth to grandstand his inner beast. But the most important character is never seen, the community Casanova Tony Devereux, who casts a long shadow over what happens in this tight neighbourhood.

Osborn’s script is as crisp and polished as you might expect if you know his stand-up, and delivered accordingly, with clarity, precision and a fine sense of how each line should be timed. The action could be speeded up toward the end of Act Two, once it’s been established what’s going on, but otherwise builds nicely.

There’s also a disconcertingly polite atmosphere over the entire play, similar to that of The Prisoner TV series, as at least one of the Cul-De-Sac’s inhabitants realises that there’s only one way out.

Review date: 25 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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