Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1
  Opened 29 April, 2009

Ben Travers’ 1926 country-cottage farce follows the dynamic of the genre by beginning sedately then constantly ramping up the exits, entrances and states of undress, so much so that the final minute of denouement is actually the most frantic of all. This means, however, that before the interval (placed, here, between the first and second of the play’s three acts), there is precious little in the way of farce at all. We have to rely partly on the scripted comedy of smart people scoring casual points off less smart ones, and partly on our own perspective upon period/generic kitsch.
There is a fair dose of the latter on offer: when “daily woman” Mrs Leverett (played by Lynda Baron very much in the mould of Peggy Mount) began explaining the ins and outs of the Somerset village to holiday tenant Gerald Popkiss, I was reminded of the maid in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound who answers the phone with the words, “Hello, the drawing room of Lady Muldoon’s country residence one morning in early spring?” But Terry Johnson’s production cannot quite decide whether it is going to gently lampoon this aspect from a 21st-century standpoint or whether to indulge it and let it generate its own laughs. This results in awkwardnesses of tone such as Edward Baker-Duly’s characterisation of cousin Clive: he is too thoroughly the cad in co-respondent shoes to handle plausibly his sudden coup de foudre by pyjama-clad Rhoda (Kellie Shirley, one of a brace of EastEnders in the cast), whose sudden arrival in the cottage generates the stream of Hilarious Consequences. Nick Brimble as Putz speaks in what is not just a comedy-German accent, but one which feels authentically English-1920s bad.
On the farcical business itself, Johnson and his company are top-notch (even if they appear to make no use of two of the eight doors in Tim Shortall’s traditionally entrance-rich set). Mark Hadfield, that fine comedy actor, excels as dim, put-upon Harold, Neil Stuke gets up a decent head of steam as the newly-wed, honourable-but-who-would-believe-it Gerald (all golf clubs down the trousers and imaginary ukuleles), and Sarah Woodward is as unbending a termagant as ever tormented a weak-willed husband. It all motors along amiably, but never really throttles up and lets her rip.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2009

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage