Writer & Director: Ray Cooney OBE
Reviewer: Harriet Brace
“Do you think I could go out and come back in again?” The immortal tagline of any bad day is instantly relatable, echoes with resigned frustration – and perfectly sums up Ray Cooney’s theatrical farce Out of Order.
The award-winning dramedy follows the misfortunes of junior minister Richard Willey, whose roguish night of passion with the opposition leader’s secretary is sent awry by the discovery of a dead body.
Apparently ended by a crack to the neck from the unreliable sash window of their Westminster hotel suite, Willey calls upon his hapless junior colleague to clean up his caddish mess and dispose of the John Doe. But the course of covering up, naturally, doesn’t run smooth and soon there’s a slew of people to placate and ever-increasing untruths to unpick.
Out of Order has no vacancies for star quality, with instantly recognisable faces including Shaun Williamson (Eastenders), Sue Holderness (Only Fools and Horses), Susie Amy (Footballers’ Wives) and James Holmes (Miranda) among the cast. As such the quick-fire comic timing, cheeky quips and outlandish behaviour characteristic of Cooney is all there, with some amusing up to the minute jibes about Brexit and extravagant attitudes towards expenses thrown in for contemporary kicks.
Despite its Westminster witticisms though, it’s easy for the farcical formula to seem a bit forced for the modern-day audience. There’s little room for the actors to step outside the stock character box with the sexy secretary, scoundrel toff and ill-starred sidekick roles so firmly entrenched in the genre, and the stereotypes surrounding them still a central part of the storyline.
Even the set hints at the somewhat timeworn nature of the play, with the action taking place within the structure of a box and suggestive of any number of over the hill guesthouses across the country – all beige striped wallpaper and reddish-brown carpet.
The silver lining of the somewhat faded format is its reliance on physical comedy to sell the tale – and in this Out of Order excels. Shaun Williamson is enchantingly gratifying as George Pigden; his every exhalation exaggerated to hilarious effect and his grotesque facial expressions inducing giggles of glee from the audience. Meanwhile, James Holmes is delightfully dishevelled and game for a laugh as The Waiter, eager to please (for the right price) and with more than adequate sass to play off the staidness of the story’s parliamentarians.
Often just an outline in white chalk, Out of Order goes above and beyond with one of its funniest and most endearing characters, The Body. David Warwick is bizarrely droll as the lolloping victim, enduring endless positioning, outfit adjustments and close encounters with prop doors and windows to bring about one of the play’s most exciting twists.
In a change to the bill, Jeff Harmer steps in as Richard Willey for this production, continuing the role in Glasgow after taking it on for the show’s Birmingham stint last week. Demonstrating no tell-tale uncertainty, he instead soared through the production with the cast-iron confidence befitting of a smarmy politician – coping with ease with the silver-tongued fibs that make up much of his dialogue, and swooping on and off stage with a seemingly authentic air of Etonian entitlement.
While some of its elements may be irrevocably at odds with millennial attitudes, part of Out of Order’s appeal is its adherence to established farcical tradition. Its chaotic, sitcom-esque style has charming moments reminiscent of TV greats such as Only Fools and Horses and Open All Hours – despite feeling a little stale for the modern viewer.
In an era where politics means division, frustration, and disbelief for many it can be hard to take at face value. But Out of Order offers a pretty harmless poke at public life, and perhaps that’s just the perspective needed.
Runs until 22 April 2017 | Image: Contributed