IN BRIEF Perfectly pitched double act reveals unspoken humanity in this banter-ful blokey happy hour

TRUE COLOURS comes fast out of the trap with an impromptu dance routine to raise a smile from the audience and doesn’t let up. The ensuing banter and gags are relentless and mostly score, although just occasionally try too hard. After the first 10 minutes the banter slows and more character is revealed, sketching in our sparring partners on a long hot summer in August 1993.

Ray and Leon are painters and decorators and best mates. In the six years that Leon has worked for older Ray they have developed a close relationship that lives and breathes banter. In writer/director Paul Stevens’ acute and affectionate 60-minute play, we see them most often in the break times from work, with the radio providing a perky soundtrack to the verbal ducking and diving.

Behind the banter both Ray and Leon have secrets. Ray has been made an offer for his painting business and Leon has decided to get back into music; it’s just the thorny issue of how each tells the other that things are about to change. Finding the courage- and the words – is a key part of both characters’ journeys.

Inset monologues to the audience reveals each man’s secrets, and significant pasts. Ray’s wife died three years ago; Leon has a young daughter by a drunken one-night stand.

It’s when the action shifts away from the work site to Ray’s wife’s graveside that another side of their relationship reveals the extent that both men care for each other, in a deep but unspoken way.

The direction, by writer Stevens, is detailed, with some well-placed bits of business and visual gags. The compact and well-judged script is assured in its pacing and empathy for the characters, at one point eloquently describing a “difficult” word-less conversation of shrugs and sounds, where the two express their lack of expression endearingly.

Both actors give committed and very finely-crafted performances. Both Paul Marlon (as dreamer Ray) and Jack Harding (as sharper Leon) create very human and relatable characters who can read each other clearly, choose to wind up or bicker, in a blokey, matey, non-tactile way. The chemistry they have is palpable and convinces to the point that the row they get into becomes almost physically uncomfortable.

The end of the play feels just a little straightforward and disappointing, as the characters look ahead to new horizons. Perhaps the script had set an expectation for a bigger finish. But I don’t want to quibble.

This valuable, smart and funny show highlights men’s inhibitions around self-expression, while reminding us that just because they haven’t the words, it doesn’t mean to say that they haven’t the feelings.

The audience at the 50-seat Hope Theatre rightly gave it a rousing reception.

TRUE COLOURS played the Hope Theatre, Islington on 19 and 20 May

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