Domestic Bliss by Roy Knowles at Nexus Art Cafe, Manchester

Published by: Caroline May on 25th Feb 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May

Domestic Bliss, Roy Knowles’ biting satire on contemporary northern working-class life, has finally made it to a full-length fully-staged production after being work-shopped at Oldham Coliseum, semi-staged at the Not Part of Festival’s Sitcom Shorts show in 2009, and receiving a rehearsed reading at last year’s 24:7 Theatre Festival.

The process of development - and possibly the help of director Matthew Gould - has transformed the sketchy (if hilarious) premise into a fully-fledged comedy drama.

Hard-working but hide-bound Les and his kind but ditzy wife Jean think they already have enough on their plates with slacker son Mark and mouthy daughter Dawn. That’s until they decide to spend the evening unwinding in front of another scandalous episode of Danny Funckle, Agony Uncle (a format not unrelated to The Jeremy Kyle Show if DNA tests are to be believed) and discover that Shelly, the show’s latest dysfunctional wannabe WAG, is claiming that Mark is the father of her new baby…

John Howarth as comic foil Les and Sharon Heywood as doting grandmother Jean mine the play’s potential for drama and pathos, and Gemma Flannery’s Dawn and Matthew Melbourne’s Mark relish the sardonic one-liners, while Zoe Iqbal is fabulous as short-skirted, loose-moralled Shelly, the none-too-doting mother of bouncing fourteen-pound baby Hollyblossomlouise (named after her Nana and a paint advert on the telly).

Where Domestic Bliss really scores theatrical points is with the semi-surreal interplay between the scenes in the TV studio and the live reaction in the Tyler family’s front room. This is partly because the author turns the confession show’s sensationalist format into a recurring joke that brilliantly develops through the story. But mainly it’s because the stage is lit up by Liam Tims’ charismatic performance as the vain, self-important, counterfeit-caring TV presenter - his spontaneous interaction with the (real live) audience and witty ad libs were the icing on the cake.

Incidentally, this was my first theatre trip to the Nexus Art Café in Manchester‘s Trendy Northern Quarter (© Manchester City Council), which is a fantastic performance space as well as boasting squishy sofas, lovely coffee and tempting home-made cakes.

I can’t predict what the next development will be for Domestic Bliss, but if its previous incarnations are anything to go by it will be a tremendous success.