Review: Four Farces, Wilton’s Music Hall

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We tend to have a rather stilted view of Victorian theatre – high tragedy at the top end, bawdy music hall at the other, with maybe a smattering of Gilbert and Sullivan in between. So this presentation of four short one-act farces is welcome. Often performed as a prelude to more serious fare, an evening of comic vignettes highlights the delights – and the occasional drawbacks – of the form.

John Maddison Morton’s Box and Cox, in which a day worker and night worker discover that their crafty landlady has rented them the same apartment, figuring their work patterns would never meet, has a great setup. Asta Parry’s Mrs Bouncer is a slight role – little more than a Victorian Mrs Overall – but Parry fills in the blanks well. In contrast, the principals (Richard Latham and John O’Connor) don’t quite connect, with the unfortunate result that the main conceit – one which in its day was popular enough to inspire political cartoons – ends up giving the impression that the whole evening could be an adventure in misguided revivalism.

Thankfully, the second play, Wanted, A Young Lady, starts to pick up. While one gets the impression that Latham’s simple manservant, Simon, is somewhat older than the original script may have intended, O’Connor begins to come alive as the ne’er-do-well man who poses first as his more tolerable brother, then his own grandmother, in pursuit of a young woman. Again, it is Parry who outshines the two men.

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Review: Four Farces, Wilton’s Music Hall3Scott Matthewman2013-06-22 15:03:59We tend to have a rather stilted view of Victorian theatre – high tragedy at the top end, bawdy music hall at the other, with maybe a smattering of …

When We Are Married, Garrick Theatre

First published in 1938 and set 30 years previously, J B Priestley’s comedy of manners is as delightful as ever.

Three Yorkshire couples, who fancy themselves as being at the higher end of society, are each celebrating their silver wedding anniversary, having been married in a joint ceremony 25 years earlier. After a quarter century, each seems happy in the place in which they have settled, be it in their respective marriages or among the town’s social strata. But when their chapel’s new organ master brings some news that means the weddings were never official, and so for 25 years they have not been married at all, each is forced to reappraise their position.

Like all good comedies, the story is a hair’s breadth away from drama. One could easily imagine Priestley’s script being played with a wry, bittersweet, Alan Bennett-style pathos. Here, though, under Christopher Luscombe’s direction, the production goes for out and out comedy, with a cast that is able to wring out every laugh with every line, every look, every finely judged bit of comedy business.

Of the three couples whose marital lives face upheaval, Sam Kelly stands out as Herbert Soppitt, a man who for two and a half decades has been hen-pecked by the imperious Clara (Maureen Lipman) but who finally finds his voice, while Susie Blake is magnificent as the woman who is most prepared to stand by her “husband” until she finds that he may not have been so upright in the meantime.

While all six of the main characters impress so much, the ensemble around them excels also. In any comedy that revolves around class (or the lack of it) the servants often get the best lines and that is especially true here: in the hands of Lynda Baron as eavesdropping charlady Mrs Northrop and particularly Jodie McNee as motormouthed maid Ruby Birtle, Priestley’s dialogue sparks along superbly.

Roy Hudd’s intoxicated photographer and Rosemary Ashe’s blowsy Blackpool barmaid are excellent cats to put among the Yorkshire pigeons, and designer Simon Higlett has created a sumptuous Victorian drawing room set for the farce to unfold in. But the major star of the night is McNee, who steals every scene and deservedly so.

Angela Unbound, Leicester Square Basement

The understated black set, bare save for an ornate sofa, provides a subdued backdrop to characters that are anything but in William Whitehurst’s misfiring farce, running as part of the London Festival Fringe.

Jonathan Hansler’s wild eyed, manic maverick author Daniel McBain is a maelstrom of unpredictability. From the moment he steps on stage in silk dressing gown and wielding a sink plunger, his aura of danger permeates the confines of the Leicester Square Basement.

As McBain’s counterfoil, French translator Charles Duprey, Peter Glover cuts a lonely, tragic figure, whose floundering hesitancies bring a much-needed sense of pathos.

Completing the cast, it is Ewa Jaworksi’s nymphomaniac muse Caroline who is the hardest to pin down. Jaworski is able to portray her myriad mood swings, turning from vulnerable to predatory on a sixpence.
But this character is supposed to be the fulcrum about which the whole play pivots, and yet it feels the least well written of the three. She feels defined more by McBain’s fictions, which may be intentional but comes to naught when there is nothing else for the audience to relate to.

In its short, single act form, Angela Unbound feels like a play that needs more space to explore themes with the effectiveness it desires. Whether we would want to spend any more time with these characters, though, is debatable.