Writer & Director: Ray Cooney
Reviewer: Steve Turner
Originally written and performed in 1990 and here updated to include some topical references to Brexit, May, Corbyn and Boris Johnson, Ray Cooney’s farce has lost none of its verve, capacity to surprise, and most importantly its ability to make us laugh. Indeed the laughter from the audience is so loud it is the only thing that slows down the relentless pace of the performance, the actors occasionally pausing to let the laughter subside lest the next killer line be drowned out.
Richard Willey (Andrew Hall) is an MP, intent on avoiding the night’s debate in the House, instead focussing on developing a relationship with Jane Worthington (Susie Amy) the secretary to the leader of the Opposition. Needless to say, things do not go smoothly – well it is a farce, not a romance after all – and fairly soon what started as a straightforward story gets just about as complicated as it could. Shaun Williamson as Willey’s private secretary gets caught up in a web of deceit, spun by his boss, which always seems to be either just on the point of holding together or conversely collapsing entirely. This is perhaps the overriding reason for the success of the piece, the audience is constantly being teased by Cooney’s writing and the marvellous delivery and timing of tonight’s cast.
The programme notes list Cooney’s own Rules of Farce, among which is the idea that the characters must be truthful and recognisable. An MP having an affair, willing to lie his way out of situations and ready to push the blame on to someone else…unfortunately, it’s not too difficult to find this character truthful. Staying true to another of his rules for farce is the insistence that casting is vital. In order for the action to be believable, the cast must play the roles seriously not as if in a comedy. In this way the humour is able to shine through as it is derived from the predicaments that the cast find themselves in and their sometimes less than successful attempts to extricate themselves, only to end up further entangled.
As with all good farces, all of the action takes place in once location, in this case, a hotel room, with multiple entry and exit points for the characters. Alongside the usual doors to other rooms and cupboards, this set features a malevolent sash window, central to the action and, with what seems to be a mind of its own, it becomes almost an extra character in its own right.
As one would expect all the traditional elements of farce are here: misunderstandings, sudden unexpected arrivals of spouses, someone spending a lot of time in their underwear, a gentleman’s trousers being pulled down, a dead body and so on. among all this tradition though there are still some surprises, not the least of which is a short delay while an errant piece of scenery is dealt with. Even this fails to slow things down as it is handled adroitly by the cast.
Cooney’s skills as writer and director mean that you do not have to be a fan of farce to enjoy this, although judging by the rapturous reception given by tonight’s audience, it would appear that there are plenty of fans of farce out there.
An absolute joy from start to finish.
Runs until 11 March 2017 then tours| Image: Contributed