Naïve, young lawyer Justin (Andrew Hawley) has one month to wait for his US visa, and decides to spend it visiting long-lost family in Edinburgh. His charismatic Uncle Rab (Simon Weir) is a hard-nosed brothel owner who loves his Mum, but has a rep to protect, and sets about having his nephew working on the reception and doing thankless errands. Justin soon finds that the job is more purgatory than paradise, as he comes in contact with a whole number of dubious characters – but can he keep out of trouble in the meantime?
The opener plays out like a scene from a play, where we witness Justin getting his (rather ridiculous) US Embassy grilling, in order to on reflect the sweet irony of the promises made at a later stage in the story. But it’s Weir as storytelling Rab who dominates the screen of misfits, a tonic of profanity as a Mummy’s Boy gangsta. Rab is nasty and nice, a Jekyll and Hyde character who plays by his own set of rules in a closed-doors society to get the job done.
Weir is utterly engaging, whether as Rab, he’s ranting or charming the hind legs of a donkey, an anti-patriarch that all the other characters look to and react to when on screen. But it’s also events completely out of his hands, like the famous curry scene, that provide the biggest laugh-out-loud moments. As in Four Lions, everything each character does is done with absolute conviction, but the uncontrolled results are not only cause for sheer side-splitting delight for the audience, but further emphasise the complete farce and disjointed logic that some of the characters live by.
This is a contemporary ‘comedy of errors’ laced with poignant and troubling scenes that bring a sobering element of realism to what you are watching, and without the happy resolution for all. Far from make light of the world of prostitution, Thallon mocks those in charge of it, hence we can laugh heartedly at Rab’s misguided antics, through the innocent experiences of Justin’s time with the crew. The reality check comes with the addition of sadistic character Leo – sinisterly and convincingly played by Leo Horsfield – who has his own heavy-handed ways of managing the talent (the girls), and is more of the kind of seedy caricature we’d expect.
This is also a class-crossing piece of comedy genius from Thallon, particularly considering the class-conscious echelons of Edinburgh society, including ‘corrupted counsel’ in the whipping chamber. It seems every walk of life comes under scrutiny, good and bad from each end of the spectrum, registering with a wide range of potential viewers. Ironically, with recent rioting events, amicable-looking Hawley as Justin demonstrates the power of peer pressure, even though he knows right from wrong and tries to get a grip on events.
Thallon’s A Spanking In Paradise is a dark gem of perverse hilarity driven by some strong characters like Weir as Rab that give the story its unique stubborn and foolhardy life and soul.