Royal National Theatre (Lyttelton), London SE1
Opened 5 October, 2000; reviewed December, 2000

It's easy to sneer at farce, especially modern farce, but when it's this well done it can still be a real joy.

Michael Frayn's play is fiendishly well put together. It is set amid a small-scale tour of a cheesy farce, so that we see the first act of the play-within-the-play three times: first at the final small-hours dress rehearsal, in which character flaws and misunderstandings are initially sown; then a few weeks later on tour, when the rot is setting in and tensions within the company are rising; finally at the end of the tour, by which time things have degenerated completely. Oh, and the second time we see events backstage rather than front-on, so to speak. Do you follow me?

It's a seething cauldron of forgetfulness, drunkenness, adulteries real and imagined and unhelpful props (principally several plates of sardines). This is the sort of wild playfulness that the multi-talented Jeremy Sams loves, and as director he rises gleefully to the challenge, as does a cast composed almost entirely of notables led by Peter Egan and Patricia Hodge. Especially in Act Two the physical business is non-stop and complex, and is carried off with jaw-dropping precision and hilarious brio. It also comes with the funniest mock-programme (for the "pretend" play) that I've ever seen.

Written for

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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