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A Nice Little Holiday by Sarah Wooley

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A Nice Little Holiday by Sarah Wooley (2010).  Dir. Gaynor MacFarlane.  Perf. Tracey Wiles, Robin Laing, Tobias Menzies.  BBC Radio 4 Extra 28 Jan. 2015.  BBCiPlayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00txj8j to 27 Feb. 2015.

 

The names of John Osborne and Tony Richardson will forever be identified with the so-called ‘Angry Young Men’ who emerged in the mid-Fifties and revolutionized British theater forever.  The Loamshire plays of Rattigan and NoŽl Coward were swept away by work such as Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer, both of which took an uncompromising look at British society as it tried to adjust to contemporary realities, especially its decline in status in the world.

On the evidence of Gaynor MacFarlane’s production, however, it seems that both men were thoroughly unpleasant in their private lives.  Set in France in 1961, A Nice Little Holiday recounts the proverbial two weeks in hell, as Richardson (Tobias Menzies), Osborne (Robin Laing), and Osborne’s current belle Jocelyn Rickards (Tracey Wiles) spend time away from London’s West End in the south of France.  During their visit they accept several guests, including the director George Devine – currently experiencing a nervous breakdown – and Christopher Isherwood (Richard Greenwood) and his boyfriend Don Bachardy (James Anthony Pearson).

Richardson thoroughly enjoys all the comings and goings, as they provide him with an excuse to play the host, while giving him sufficient time and space to go off for occasional “business meetings” with an unidentified lover.  Osborne cannot escape the London ambience (much to Rickards’s chagrin), as he has all his letters sent on and writes a vituperative article (“Damn you, England”) that only increases his notoriety.  One reader (Matthew Zajac) is so incensed by Osborne’s views that he comes over from England to the holiday retreat with the express intention of chastising the dramatist.

True to his character as a sublime egotist, Osborne revels in the publicity, while taking little or no notice of Rickards’s protests (even though the two of them are supposed to be in love).  He picks up and drops women at will; although they might be attracted to him, he treats them like commodities.  We might wonder why they continue to pursue him: Rickards informs us that he has a particularly seductive aura about him, though quite what that is seems difficult to fathom.

Ultimately A Nice Little Holiday comes across as a particularly misogynist piece, whose male protagonists try too hard to conform to their images – now somewhat frayed – as Angry Young Men, even though they are no longer young and not particularly angry.  Their star seems to have faded somewhat, especially by comparison with Isherwood’s.  We are only left to sympathize with Rickards as she struggles to enjoy her holiday but finds herself cast off at the end like the proverbial old shoe.