The Maintenance Man

Dee Dee Doke reviews The Maintenance Man

The Maintenance Man
by Richard Harris
performed by Waterbeach Community Players
directed by Wendy Croft

Need some shelves made for your home? Bob's your man. Are a few repairs in order? Ever helpful Bob is just the man for the job. Of course, if you're female, open-hearted and possibly a bit vulnerable, you're definitely in with a chance to secure Bob's services.

That's the surface premise for Richard Harris's dramedy, The Maintenance Man, performed in November by the Waterbeach Community Players, directed by Wendy Croft. A little exploration reveals a less wholesome set of scenarios underway: the seemingly genial Bob is revealed as not only less than an expert DIY man but worse, a nasty piece of work himself who psychologically wears down the women in his life. At the same time, Bob really needs his women - his wife Chris, his mistress Diana and her little daughter, his mother, and others who drift into his path - more than they need him. In fact, they'd be far better off without him.

The author is best known for his charming, much-loved dance class comedy Stepping Out. In that ultimate feel-good slice of life show, the audience is compelled to cheer on a variety of characters. In contrast, The Maintenance Man is more of a mystery. Are any of the three characters we see worth cheering on?

Possibly. But it takes The Maintenance Man a very long time to get the audience to that decision point. It is a talky two-act tale that is too heavy-handed to succeed as a comedy yet lacks the emotional punch to shine as a drama. As a one-act, The Maintenance Man could have wielded real power. In its two-act form, it meanders without sufficient storytelling punctuation of dramatic hills and valleys, especially in the first act.

However, that was not the fault of its actors, who clearly put their all into the material: James Dowson was likeable and petulant, charming and narcissistic, and blithely lacking self-awareness as the titular role of Bob, the maintenance man. In the role of Diana, Bob's mistress, Cath Langridge let her own innate niceness flow through in delivering a highly sympathetic portrayal.

It is up to the actress playing the role of Christine to drive home the ultimate understanding of the human damage Bob wreaks. We see her for most of the play as a truly miserable woman, then beautifully transformed when she reclaims her life from the cloying fingers of Bob, who can never really let go of her even when providing his 'services' to other women. Christine Easterfield deftly handled that responsibility, satisfying the audience's need for a character worthy of their support and good wishes, and something of a happy ending.

As usual, Waterbeach's set was realistic and well executed, thanks to technical director/ designer Mark Easterfield and his team. Kudos to Sue Barnes's wig wizardry, providing the character of Christine with beautiful, natural-looking long locks for flashback scenes.

This is a play with something to say - but it forces its actors to learn too many repetitive lines and its audience to spend too much time in the front rooms of characters in the clutch of inertia before we find out what that something is.

Dee Dee Doke