‘The Nerd’ is a madcap play by American actor Larry Shue, who was best known for his part as Sergeant Froggy in ‘The Foreigner’, another hugely successful play he wrote that was a big hit in Perth a couple of years ago. Tragically Larry died in a plane crash not long before his 40th birthday.
The 1980 play is a two-act comedy that had its UK premiere in Manchester. One of the actors who took on the title role was Mr Bean – comedian Rowan Atkinson who must have been perfect, although I think that our own Richard Hadler in this production would be hard to beat. With 441 performances it was the top grossing American play in London’s West End in the eighties. Mark Hamill – ‘Star Wars’’ Luke Skywalker – played Willum.
The highly respected theatre group Serial Productions who over the years have brought us numerous comedies, are presenting the side-splitting ‘The Nerd’ at The Old Mill Theatre, located on the corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road in South Perth. The two-and a half hour performances are at 7.30 pm until Saturday 24th August. There are also matinées on Sunday the 11th and 18th at 2.00 pm.
The Scene: The comfortable living room in an up-market home in Terre Haute, Indiana. It is the 4th November 1980.
The Set: was designed by George Boyd. As with all of George’s designs, it screams originality and quality. The gaudy colours of this period were the result of the 1960s Flower Power people ‘maturing’.
The front of the stage is a sunken lounge with two steps up to the raised rear balcony area that has the front door, a cloak cupboard, a curtained window, an orange leather studded bar and a door to the kitchen. There is a wooden handrail overlooking the main sitting area.
At the lower level is an architect’s easel and stool. Built in shelving on the wall and a bookcase with a telephone answering machine. The seating comprised several splendid cream velvet and chrome Relling lounge chairs with a matching coffee table. A tall potted palm stood in the corner. Black carpeting with a white rug covers the floor.
The walls were cream with sap green doors and dark brown door frames. A 5 cms band of deep orange paint surrounds the woodwork. It sounds garish but it complemented the Picasso design of the cushion and curtain’s material.
There were carefully chosen artworks, but typical of George, the accurate American Institute of Architects certificates on the wall even had Willum’s name on them. Great dedication.
Lesley Sutton, queen of the props, found some real beauties that brought several smiles. The home looked genuinely ‘lived-in’. Wonderful.
The lighting design was by Shelly Miller and smoothly operated by Brendan Tobin.
The sound design and operation were by George Boyd. At the start of most performances we are asked to turn off our mobiles, ‘as they may interfere with the sound system’. I have always thought this to be a weak reason for switching them off, but last night we were treated to an estate agent discussing an offer superimposed over the theatre’s sound system. No one present was too sure where he was or how this could happen.
Willum Cubbert (Rhett Clarke) is a young, self-employed architect and rents two rooms in his house to his good friends Tansy (Kylie Isaia) and whiskey-loving Axel (Alan Gill). Attractive, bubbly and bright Tansy is attracted to shy Willum, as is he to her, but neither seem to get up the courage to make the first romantic move; possibly because Axel was once engaged to Tansy. She intends moving to Alexandria.
Axel and Tansy have organised a surprise 34th birthday party for Willum, but Willum has already invited his miserable, multi-millionaire client, Warnock Waldgrave (John Pomfret) owner of numerous hotels and his family around for the evening. When Waldgrave arrives with his highly-strung wife, Clelia (Jacqui Warner), their spoilt brat of a son, Thor (Kody Fellows – well done) makes it very clear that he does not want to be there.
A knock on the door and there is an unexpected houseguest, Rick Steadman (Richard Hadler) a GI who once saved Willum’s life during the Vietnam War. When rescued, due to his severe injuries Willum was in a coma, so never actually met Rick, but they had regularly exchanged seasonal greeting cards since. Willum had promised Rick that should he need help in the future, he could ask at any time.
Now hero Rick has shown up at this important business / dinner meeting. Rick’s difficult manner and unfortunate anti-social behaviour causes chaos. When the tactless nerd Rick moves in, kind and caring Willum feels further obligated and cannot say no.
What can Willum do to get rid of this brave but horrendously annoying visitor?
The audience sat wondering if Willum would kill the Nerd; because if he doesn’t, undoubtedly one of us would jump on the stage and do it for him.
Directed by comical genius, Joe Isaia and his gifted assistant Rob Warner, they have selected an amazing cast who carried the moronic pandemonium steadily through the play. You REALLY felt for poor Willum as his life crumbled. Every actor was exemplary, but Richard as the Nerd was on a new level. Every cell of his body was irritating! His smirk, his body language and a complete inability to appreciate any social situation. To be so successfully annoying required the rest of the cast to be ‘straight men’ feeding him with deadpan faces and pure helplessness. Fantastic teamwork.
The last ten minutes of the show had a beautifully acted twist / surprise. The actors and company were perfect, but the playwright’s dialogue and situation were too richly written, so a little difficult to absorb and comprehend.
SPOILER ALERT: if you are one of the audience who still leaves confused, then look up a review on this website called NERD-ENDING where the story is explained – but please do not look otherwise!
The script is already hilarious, but the clever and inventive direction has thrown in many more visual situations that have the audience gasping in disbelief. A very funny play that can be annoying, frustrating but in the end satisfying. A night of magic!
Another Serial Production’s comedy success.