FringeReview UK 2017
Not content with updating and directing his 1990 political farce Out of Order Ray Cooney sits in on performances at Theatre Royal Brighton brought courtesy of Tom O’Connell Productions. The bright hotel set too, crisp and functional by Rebecca Brower is far cleverer than it looks, including a swinging cupboard door to hang a body on, and window crashing down on heads to kill or cure. Jack Weir’s lighting pitches that peculiar hotel brightness to cast shadows; James Nicholson’s sound initially explodes but settles down.
Ray Cooney not only updates and directs his 1990 political farce Out of Order, he’s sitting in for the run and might be spotted eating ice cream at the back of the stalls though it’s more likely he moves about.
It’s 2017 and little bar a larger TV and smaller mobiles are needed to set the Westminster Hotel on a contemporary edge. An ice cream stripe of a set too, crisp and functional by Rebecca Brower is far cleverer than it looks, including a swinging cupboard door to hang a body on, and window crashing down on heads to kill or cure. Jack Weir’s lighting pitches that peculiar hotel brightness to cast shadows; James Nicholson’s sound initially explodes but settles down into ‘Love and Marriage’. Not a lot of that.
It’s a dead body Andrew Hall’s consummate sleaze-body Tory MP Richard ‘Dick’ Willey is confronted with when bunking off an important debate with of all people Corbyn’s secretary Jane Worthington, a slinky Susie Amy. Her panicky discovery sets off explosions of laughter that don’t let up, one definition of indefinable farce. The Manager crashes in, there’s a burglar been spotted. Hall’s manic timing seems designed for farce too, he holds pace and cracks time with it. Amy bounces off him, though not in the classy lingerie she’s forced to parade in when Hall’s character – distracted in hiding the body (the scandal!) – hands her (bright red, mais naturellement) dress to James Holmes’ sponging waiter, Cromwell.
Holmes’ laconic time-server, never distracted from holding out his hand for another fifty quid, is one of those mixtures of crass mistake and clever opportunist. Farcical straight-men like Hall naturally need at least a couple, and his own long-suffering PPS George Pigden fulfils that, once summoned, as well as supplying a moral safety valve to his complicity.
The mother-girt virginal Pigden – baring a passing resemblance to Tom Watson here – is ruled by Nurse Foster’s deadlines. Elizabeth Elvin’s boss-cat but ultimately puss-cat spin infectiously complicates the second act. Shaun Williamson’s superb as Pigden: first a seeming bungler, then when Hall’s Willey as it were has ingeniously backed into another cul-de-sac (or sack) it’s Pigden’s job to create alter egos. This is not least to protect himself from Willey’s ruthless deflection onto him of Jane’s unconsummated infidelity: her impotent angry husband Ronnie Worthington crashes in – Jules Brown switching from fury to blubber clutching Willey’s midriff with obvious connotations for the Manager and Churchill.
Arthur Bostrom’s adamantine Manager slowly ruffles to detonate – it’s another faultless farceur’s masterclass as Bostrom picks through the rubble of misconceptions, a trashed room offstage apparent gay fellatio and several naked bodies whizzing past (mostly offstage…). It helps Willey’s desperately booked this other room as escape valve of spare bodies; soon everyone’s jumping through the adjoining window. Reunited with her dress Jane escapes but loses her way dodging her husband. And all the time Theresa May’s beleaguered and waiting on her lapdog, as Pigden informs Willey.
Following more mix-ups Churchill summons the overly protective nurse Foster, who in looking after the mother makes after the son. And a repeat performance for Pigden. Always add an unexpected ingredient: two women in Act Two. Willey’s wife Pamela (a dipsy Tory Sue Holderness, one of those bashed on the head) arrives first. Both times the virginal batchelor fumbles a distracted declaration of passion, first to Pamela then Gladys Foster: spectacularly it works both times… and all the while Willey’s married him off to Jane. ‘That’s my old wife’ Willey ripostes blithely ‘that’s his new one.’ By this time too so many people are getting knocked on the head by the falling sash that it’s conjured, duly obliges, then doesn’t.
There’s a shock ravel of realignments – literally as now-naked Ronnie is spotted by his wife ‘I could tell he was pleased to see me.’ But what of David Warwick’s Body? Another dick, a private one …. he’s the ‘burglar’ spotted and sought by the management. Dick? You’ll have to find out. Warwick’s played several parts but returns to the one he originated; since there’s not an assistant director in sight, it might not be a bad idea to hide one in plain sight, though Cooney’s grip not least in up-to-date rewrites (even to Trump and May) is so consummate one wouldn’t dare to presume. It’s a rare chance to see a master on hand. This is a superbly revised first-rank farce with not a weak link, furiously paced featuring perhaps the only time the window (in person?) gets a curtain call.