When Bob Larbey’s A Month of Sundays premiered in 1985, it won the Evening Standard award for best new comedy. Known for his television sitcoms The Good Life and A Fine Romance, Larbey’s gift for developing strong characters is truncated for the stage and while the public’s taste in comedy may have altered, the play seems increasingly relevant today as Britain’s ageing population becomes a hot topic.
The care industry may have altered immensely in the past 30 years, but the themes of Larbey’s play are amplified. William Hoyland’s wry pensioner Cooper is weak on his pins but sharp as a tack, flirting with the staff and plotting escape with fellow resident Aylott, an amiable Robin Hooper. Beneath the banter however is an unspoken fear of incontinence, dementia and ultimately loneliness, so when Aylott starts getting lost, Cooper realises it’s time to speak out.
Much of the Chekhovian comedy of the play centres around Cooper’s relationship with three women: Nurse Wilson, played with warm efficiency by Anna Leong Brophy and his cleaner Mrs Baker, a subtly subversive performance from Connie Walker. Sophie Russell as Cooper’s abrasive daughter is slightly less satisfying but the three combine to provide the mainstays of British comedy – sexual innuendo, class distinction and emotional constipation.
It is the final scene that raises the stakes, however, as Cooper adjusts to the fact that his friend Aylott is beginning to show signs of dementia. Hoyland nails the despondency of Cooper’s self-imposed exile but he also underlines the need for emotional flexibility as much as the physical.