Stags and Hens, Norwich

Willy Russell's perennial comedy of pre-wedding jitters often feels unbalanced in performance, its arsenal of one-liners can too easily take centre stage.

By MIRANDA YATES

Willy Russell's perennial comedy of pre-wedding jitters often feels unbalanced in performance, its arsenal of one-liners can too easily take centre stage.

The greatest challenge is to deliver the play's dark side with any credibility.

Sewell Barn Theatre's choice to cast a wide age range of actors as the Stags, pushes it a bit but the preening Hens help us to believe in 1970s' Liverpool.

The rituals demanded by small-town courtship and friendship, which exist equally both to uphold and smother identity, are well highlighted by Carol Bailey's Bernie, who leads the hens against Linda when she shows signs of defying convention.

By the end of the play the rhetorical refrain – “What are mates for?” – demands a serious answer.

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As symbols of working-class apathy and aggression, it is hard to invest Russell's revellers with individuality. However Julian Fonseka does well as Eddy, an explosive bag of bile and sexual jealousy and Nigel Beiley gets laughs as the naïve and nervy Billy.

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