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.