There are many reasons for going to see Ben Weatherill’s Frank and Percy at the Theatre Royal Windsor. My primary reason was the fact that, in 56 years of theatregoing, I had still never been to the Theatre Royal Windsor; and I realised this was an insupportable position that simply had to be put right. And it’s a fascinating little place – elegantly tiered, comfortable seats (given it was built in 1910), welcoming bar, friendly staff and a surprisingly unornate interior. Above all, I am given to believe that you get a good view of the stage from almost every seat in the house, which has to be a massive bonus.
Another reason for going is that Frank and Percy is a good production of a fairly good play with two very good performances. Let me elaborate. Frank (Roger Allam) takes his dog Toffee for her daily walk on Hampstead Heath and bumps into Percy (Ian McKellen) taking his dog Bruno for his. Naturally, they talk about their dogs. These daily chats become a habit, and the two men become friends. Both lead rather lonely lives. Frank is widowed, having lost his wife Alice, and Percy is estranged from his husband Dennis. As their friendship develops, a physical attraction also grows. Before long, they become a rather unlikely couple; Percy encouraging Frank’s realisation of his own bisexuality, Frank supporting Percy through health issues and a poor public reaction to his latest book. If they can get over the hurdle of Bruno getting severely injured whilst chasing sticks, they can get over anything, right? You’ll have to watch the play to find out!
Morgan Large’s set is simple but extremely effective. A wooden back wall (inspired by a Hampstead park bench) parts to reveal a thickly verdant projection of dense trees; a similarly wooden revolving design on the stage becomes a woodland path, café tables and chairs, or domestic furniture. Scene numbers and locations are projected onto the back wall to keep us focused on the play’s progression. As for his costume design, there are a couple of surprise costume changes which I won’t spoil for you but got a round of applause all of their own.
Like 4000 Miles, recently at Chichester, this is an elegantly written but episodically structured play, where the narrative is fragmented and most of writer Ben Weatherill’s efforts have gone in to filling out the minutest aspects of his two characters. As a result, we feel we know the personalities and attitudes of Frank and Percy intimately; the actual story, as such, once you get over the fact that Frank can be attracted to a man as well as a woman, is a little soap-operatic in style. Having said that, the play does also occasionally look at other themes, such as modern cancel culture, the state of the NHS and karaoke choice disasters.
Mr Weatherill has given all the best lines to Sir Ian, who relishes every retort and funny aside that Frank delivers. Mr Allam, on the other hand, very much plays the straight man, no pun intended. Reunited after their pairing in Aladdin at the Old Vic, where Roger Allam gave us his Abbanazar to Sir Ian’s Widow Twankey, they clearly have a brilliant working relationship and friendship, and make a dream team in this exploration of late-flowering love. Although neither actor was word perfect on press night, they still nailed the show superbly well; Mr Allam is excellent conveying his slow discovery of Frank’s potential for a relationship post-Alice, and Sir Ian never misses a trick in revealing Percy’s naughty but genuinely emotional heart, even when he tries to conceal it behind cruel words.
If I have a criticism, perhaps the play itself could have been a little more daring, a little more punchy; it’s all very feelgood and neat – there’s nothing here that would shock your most elderly relatives! Nevertheless, all in all, a very enjoyable production with a couple of acting greats doing what they do best! Frank and Percy is on at the Theatre Royal Windsor until 22nd July and then transfers to the Theatre Royal Bath until 5th August.
Production photos by Jack Merriman
Four They’re Jolly Good Fellows!