Writer: Ray Cooney
Director: Ray Cooney
Reviewer: Dan English
Ray Cooney’s revival of his 1990 farce, Out Of Order, strikes a particular political chord just days before the General Election as it reaches Dartford as part of its UK Tour.
Together in affection, divided by political loyalty, Richard (Jeffrey Harmer) and Jane’s (Susie Amy) liaison comes to a sudden halt when a body is trapped in the Westminster Hotel’s window. Richard’s desperate attempt to avoid a political scandal leads to confused identities and plenty of slammed doors. As the chaos ensues, Cooney’s script is delivered excellently by a cast well versed in farcical comedy situations.
Harmer’s Richard is breathless, frantically spinning lies and stories to keep his scandal away while trying to eventually make his parliamentary debate. Harmer’s comic timing is showcased across the production and he does well to carry the production at some of its slower moments.
EastEnders alumni Shaun Williamson is a delight as the hapless parliamentary aide George. George is swept up in Richard’s web of lies often, amusingly, to the expense of George’s reputation and libido.. Williamson carries much of the play’s physical comedy across the production. Williamson is clearly at ease with slapstick comedy and his interaction with ‘the body’ (David Warwick) showing off these attributes well. A highlight of Williamson’s performance is the superbly delivered ventriloquism scene, which is a rare rib buster within a wealth of tittering quips in the first half.
Williamson combines well with comic icon Sue Holderness during the second half, with the latter’ shock arrival to meet her husband Richard. The interaction between Williamson and Holderness at the beginning of Act Two is one of the play’s standout moments, finely delivered by the pair. It is frustrating, however, that the performance sees as little of Holderness as it does, as the production yearns for Holderness’ comic bite a little more than it gets.
Arthur Bostrom and James Holmes are the hotel’s manager and waiter respectively. Bostrom is wonderfully straight amid the chaos. In contrast, Holmes’ quirky waiter works well to deliver some of the more absurd moments, yet the role feels repetitive for Holmes’ clear talent and leaves you wanting more from a character brimming with potential. That said, Holmes does come to the fore at as the farce is unravelled, using physical comedy alone to create a scene-stealing performance.
Rebecca Brower’s set design is simplistic, a mere hotel suite, but it serves the purpose of the performance. Brower’s set copes well with the enormous number of door slams written into Cooney’s script, with the erratic crash of the temperamental window keeping both audience and character on their toes.
Cooney’s script has been revisited in order to modernise it for the current political climate, with comments to both Mrs May and Mr Corbyn throughout. These modernised moments feel incongruous to the bawdy farcical setting and do feel detached from an otherwise exemplar of the genre.
Out of Order is a tried and tested farce that does have some bite still in it. This is a gentler two hours of comedy than often associated with the genre, but does deliver a spectacularly well-crafted finale.
Runs until Saturday 10th June| Image: Contributed