Writer: Richard Bean
Director: Adam Lacey
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Francis is easily confused. He used to play washboard in a skiffle band but then the Beatles happened and he was sacked. Hungry and desperate for food, he met Roscoe, a dodgy-looking bloke, who offered him a week’s work as his minder. Which is odd as Roscoe was murdered by the boyfriend of his twin sister, Rachel. At least Pauline is pleased – she was supposed to marry Roscoe in a marriage of convenience and can now marry her true love, Alan, an aspiring actor.
Separately laying low in Brighton are Rachel, masquerading as her brother to extort cash from Pauline’s dad, Charlie; and Stan, Rachel’s upper-class beau.
And so it is that Francis finds himself employed as general factotum to both Rachel (as Roscoe) and Stan, running errands and generally trying to ensure neither guvnor discovers he is also contracted to the other. On the way, he serves food to both simultaneously while finally feeding himself; comes up with ever more elaborate and ridiculous explanations for his various faux pas; and mixes up letters, diaries and photographs leading to confusion until – finally – the strands unravel and we have three happy and romantic endings.
So it’s maybe no surprise that Francis is confused and Pauline, who at the best of times is intellectually challenged, is oft heard to cry ‘I don’t understa-a-a-a-a-and’.
The number of strands and scene changes as well as the amount of slapstick comedy make this a challenging play to stage. Timing and choreography of the physical aspects need to be perfect and set design needs to ensure that transitions can be made quickly. And the Old Joint Stock has pulled it off.
Yes, there are places where the pace slips and scenes outstay their welcome a touch, but overall, sharp direction from Adam Lacey ensures this is a high-octane experience. The characters are forgivably two-dimensional with characterisation subservient to the farcical action. Nevertheless, the characters are clearly drawn and broadly believable.
At the centre is Jack Robertson’s Francis. Rarely off-stage, he is frantic and lets us see Francis’ thoughts as he desperately tries to serve both guvnors and climb out of the self-dug holes he finds himself in. Hannah Fretwell’s Rachel/Roscoe is suitably menacing although the sparkly wig of choice as she disguises herself as Roscoe does seem somewhat odd. Edward Barr-Sim’s upper-class twit, Stan, is a joy. However, stealing every scene he is in as Alan is Alexander Varey, hamming up his cod-Shakespeare lines and non-sequiturs. He declaims every line with exaggerated gravitas.
Fine support comes from Lisa MacGregor’s naïve Pauline, believably dense as events around her leave her bemused, her face lighting up whenever it alights on Alan; Martin Rossen’s Charlie Clench, Pauline’s roguish dad who tries to do his best for her while desperately pushing her into the arranged marriage; the ebullient Lloyd Boateng (Tony McPherson), Victoria Piper as Francis’ down-to-earth love interest, Dolly, and the Latin-quoting solicitor dad of Alan (William Hayes).
This small-scale staging is a worthwhile alternative to the rather bigger versions seen in the West End and on tour, but doesn’t lose because of that; some of the slapstick might be a touch muted, perhaps affected by the proximity of the front row, but overall a most entertaining evening.
Runs until 16 December 2017 | Image: Contributed