Gerry Lepkowski and Michael Wilson are a delightfully funny double-act in Bread and Butter, a 1966 play by CP Taylor, revived now in Mark Rosenblatt's attractive, quietly moving co-production for Dumbfounded Theatre and Oxford Stage Company. Glaswegian Jews, (like the author), they are a Clydeside Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the contrast they embody between ineffectual idealism and dogged pragmatism, and a more Northerly version of the Likely Lads, in that their rebellion is mostly talk and hen-pecked conformity. Tracing their friendship in eight short scenes from the Ramsay McDonald administration in 1931 to the Wilson government in 1965, Taylor offers a humane, homely perspective on mid 20th-century history.
We first see them debating whether Alec (Michael Wilson) and his wife Miriam (Pauline Turner) should take a poky Gorbals flat because the rent is low enough to be affordable in an economic crisis. Gerry Lepkowski's self-absorbed Morris is dismissive. It's not a house, he objects, it's a "personification of capitalism". This boss's son is a crusading communist who deplores the wealth and privileges that have been his from the cradle, but is hardly overjoyed when the Second World War leaves him and his wife Sharon (Jayne McKenna) on the same threadbare level as their friends.
Taylor's exasperated affection for both his male characters comes over strongly here. Morris is a classic case of someone who can't see beyond the permanently postponed revolution, or admit the contradictions in his position. Justifying his trips to a prostitute, he notes that it was Sharon who taught him to appreciate women. His historical predictions are unerringly inaccurate. Hitler is not an anti-Semite, he opines in 1933, but an anti-capitalist: it's only rich Jews he targets. The war will usher in world communism, etc, etc. In the 1950s, he's made yet another visionary list. The first item is "Go to Ghana". Having mislaid the piece of paper, he can't remember what the other item is. "I wouldn't rate myself with Marx and Lenin," he modestly concedes, but still maintains that he sees the future with absolute clarity.
You might wonder how anyone could put up with such talk for three hours, let alone three decades. But Taylor's wry writing convinces you that this is an attraction of opposites. There is something dottily admirable and humanly defective in Morris's pig-headed refusal to accept anything, just as there is something tremendously sympathetic in Alec's ability to derive joy from the birds in Queen's Park.
The play is marred by a sour streak -Alec's wife is condemn-ed for a growing meanness over money that is surely the under-standable result of having had to scrimp and save all her days. But this is a shrewd, amiable piece, well worth reviving.
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