Joe Orton was a deceptive writer. His black farces work best when actors treat their roles entirely seriously, yet lend themselves to overplaying. The Erpingham Camp, and early work for TV later rewritten for the stage, is an even harder nut to crack, as it compresses the Orton treatment of its storyline – a punters' revolt at a holiday camp – into little more than an hour.
David Grindley and his cast make the mistake of playing it big. As camp commandant Erpingham, Andrew Collins seems just as likely to annex the Sudetenland as to serve the revolting campers their evening meal. The quartet of rebellious holidaymakers and Kate Arneil's squeeze-box-playing redcoat Mason likewise go large on their performances.
In fact, it's the comedians in the cast who rein themselves in. Terry Kilkelly (alias Terry Titter) is restrained as the Padre, and pot-throwing comic behemoth Johnny Vegas, making his professional theatre debut as incompetent acting entertainment officer Riley, is much less expansive and rather less certain than his solo persona. (Despite a slew of references to Riley's Irishness, Vegas also makes no attempt to change his native Lancashire accent.) Overall, though, trying to cram two hours of Orton acting into half the time just doesn't work.
Written for the Financial Times Web site, ft.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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