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Dry Rot – Richmond Theatre, London

Writer: John Chapman

Director: Ron Aldridge

Reviewer: Ann Bawtree

[rating:3]

An actor of some experience himself, “Dry Rot” is the first play John Chapman wrote. On showing the first draft to the Emperor of Farce, Brian Rix, it was accepted gladly on condition that it was expanded to include a rôle for the Master himself. Opening in the Whitehall Theatre in 1954 it was so well received it ran for over three and a half years. Chapman went on to write many more such successes and later for television. “Dry Rot” has been included in the National Theatre’s list of one hundred “significant” plays of the 20th Century. It is certainly a prime example of its kind.

Perhaps tastes have changed with the times and this makes the play appear something of a period piece. Notoriously difficult to produce, this version seems a little low key. The set is worthy of a good amateur production, although the movement in the back cloth representing the garden was a pity. Neil Stacy makes a convincing retired Colonel of a certain generation and Liza Goddard plays his wife, Doris, as just the sort of wife she would have become after being Victoria in the television series “Take Three Girls”.

Susan Penhaligon was an unsubtle maid, Beth, and there is a similar broad performance from Sarah Whitlock as the police officer. Bob Saul and Evelyn Adams are suitably charming as the love interest and Michael Keane has to play the obligatory comic foreigner. Titus Rowe deserves a special mention a making a good job of playing the dastardly bookmaker, Alfred Tubbe, as understudy to Derren Nesbitt. The main difficulty for this production is that Hale and Pace as Fred Phipps and Flash Harry cannot help being themselves, Hale and Pace, the comic duo. Their fans would be disappointed with anything else.

There are misunderstandings, deceptions and secret passages. Characters hide in unlikely spaces astonishingly unseen by others and of course, trousers descend. The action speeds up towards the end of the play and it will probably become slicker as performances are repeated. At the moment it is a not unpleasant night out and must be taken for what it is, the first work of a writer who had a long and successful career.

Runs until 21st July

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