A shining example of some of the BBC's finest television productions
Another thought-provoking 1976 BBC play that was televised under the banner of Play for Today, was Nuts in May, produced by the acclaimed director and writer Mike Leigh (Abigail’s Party). This endearing comedy-drama follows the whimsical adventures of a couple embarking on a camping trip in the idyllic Dorset countryside. Offering a refreshing and satirical portrayal of societal norms and human quirks, the play has become a timeless piece of British television history.
Leigh presents a diverse array of personalities, each embodying different societal archetypes. From the rigid adherence to rules to the unapologetic displays of eccentricity, these characters serve as a reflection of the broader social tapestry.
Set against the picturesque backdrop of the English countryside, Nuts in May presents a refreshing take on the mundane aspects of everyday life. Married couple, the punctilious Keith and childlike Candice-Marie Pratt, played brilliantly by Roger Sloman (EastEnders) and Alison Steadman (Gavin & Stacey), embody the quintessential Britishness that defines their characters.
The camping trip, initially intended as a relaxing getaway, soon becomes a series of misadventures for the couple. From encounters with eccentric fellow campers to struggles with nature itself, their journey is fraught with comedic mishaps. What develops before us is the reveal of the dynamics of Keith and Candice-Marie's relationship, which is very much based on routine. At the campsite, they play their own guitar-banjo compositions, cook nutritious vegetarian meals, and adhere to the Country Code.
Their peaceful existence is abruptly disrupted by the arrival of Ray (Anthony O’Donnell – The Sarah Jane Adventures), a solitary student and aspiring physical education teacher who sets up camp nearby and turns on his radio. Keith and Candice Marie view this as an unacceptable offence and make it their mission to persuade Ray to turn off the music. Later, Finger and Honky (Stephen Bill and Sheila Kelly), a lively Brummie couple with their motorcycle, army tent, football, and love for late-night drinking also come into the picture. Developing an unexpected bond with Ray due to their similar personalities, they all enjoy a night of heavy drinking at the local pub together.
Upon their return to the campsite, Honky and Finger continued to create a significant amount of disturbance, much to Keith's frustration. In an attempt to restore tranquillity, Keith sternly reprimands them for their noise and urges them to be quiet. However, tensions escalate when Finger expresses his intention to start a fire for cooking sausages, which directly violates the site's regulations. This leads to a heated confrontation between Keith and Candice-Marie against Finger and Honky. In order to prevent the unauthorized fire, Keith resorts to violence, chasing Finger around with a branch. Eventually drained of energy, Keith succumbs to tears and flees into the nearby woods. After some time passes, he comes back with a resolution: he and Candice-Marie have decided that it is best for them to leave the campsite. Unfortunately, their hopes for a refund from Miss Beale (Richenda Carey – The Darling Buds of May), the owner of the site, are dashed.
With its clever use of dialogue, Leigh's script is filled with witty exchanges that showcase his ability to capture the essence of his characters. The play cleverly delves into themes of control, power dynamics, and the clash between different lifestyles. While the couple's unwavering adherence to rules and regulations may at times be frustrating, it is their authenticity that keeps the audience engaged.
Nuts in May provides a sharp lens to dissect societal conventions and norms. Leigh masterfully highlights the comedic potential inherent in human behaviour. The play's dry British wit offers a humorous critique of modern society, challenging viewers to question their own values and expectations.
Despite its initial release over four decades ago, Nuts in May remains as relevant as ever. Its exploration of human nature, societal expectations, and the conflict between individual desire and social conventions resonates with audiences across generations. The play serves as a timeless reminder that as society evolves, the human experience remains remarkably consistent.
Nuts in May stands as another shining example of some of the BBC's finest television productions, showcasing Mike Leigh's unparalleled ability to capture the nuances of human behaviour. Through brilliant performances and a witty script, the play invites viewers to reflect on their own place within society, all while maintaining a delightful and endearing tone. Not only does Nuts in May remain a cornerstone of British television history, but its timeless themes and sharp satire continue to captivate audiences, ensuring its legacy endures for generations to come.
Published on September 29th, 2023. Written by Mark Turner-Box for Television Heaven.