Out of Order
Alex Wood | 30 Apr 2015 17:37pm
Farce is difficult to do properly but easy to do badly. I was interested in what the Grantham Dramatic Society would make of Ray Cooney’s play.
The play itself looks rather old-fashioned now. It was premiered in 1990 when much less was known and understood about the various nefarious goings on (political and otherwise) by the denizens of the Palace of Westminster. The plot revolves round a government minister who, afraid that the discovery of a dead body in their hotel room by a House of Commons secretary with whom he is about to spend the night, will trigger a scandal. Dragged into this unfortunate mess are his Parliamentary Private Secretary, the minister’s wife, hotel staff, an angry husband and a nurse. And to add to the chaos – spoiler alert – the body is not dead at all.
Clever stuff, although now a bit dated. It needed hard work and skill to bring it to life.
The role of the minister, Richard ‘Dickey’ Willey was played by the genial Paul Meakin. Totally central to the plot, Willey needs to be a pompous character, with the fun deriving from the fact that he has been caught out by events and I felt that Paul lacked the bluster needed – not helped by the need for several prompts. Conversely, George Pigden, his put-upon PPS, who nevertheless survives the evening and gets the girl, was played just right by Tony Lane, who has the ideal comic timing and facial expressions for this role.
The third key character in the play is the waiter Harold Cromwell (Nigel Howitt). Played rather deadpan and imperious I’m not sure if this worked – I felt he would be more of a wheeler-dealer type – though I was beginning to warm to his character by the end of the play. John Sheppard had a nice line in concerned gravity (which became more accentuated as he realises what might be going on in his hotel), with Allison Allen providing good support as chambermaid Maria.
William Clamp was suitably angry as the suspicious husband Ronnie – though he also needed several prompts – and Suzanne Stevens made a good job of Minister’s would-be mistress, Ronnie’s wife and, for much of the play ‘Mrs Pigden’.
Gail Meakin was a very believable nurse but I thought Joss Smith was a little out of her depth in her role as the minister’s wife.
The body was played by Simon Johnson. I thought he did a good job in this unusual role, which required him to be pulled around, hung up and knocked out for a second time. But not only was he much too young for the part – a private detective who at one stage says he has been married for many years – but he looked it too. Some changes with hair and makeup would have sorted this out.
I thought the whole thing was played too slow and there were some outstanding problems. Lots of prompts were needed – and at one stage a prompt given to one actor was spoken by another. Another actor announced himself to characters who all knew who he was after he had come through a door. And so on. Comedy is a serious business and farce is unforgiving and (ought to be) fast – there is no time for forgotten lines and errors.
I sometimes think that reviewing on a first night is harsh. But the play is being presented to the paying public, who I think by first night should expect to see it in its finished form – which should not be very different from what they would see on the last night. Otherwise what are rehearsals for? I thought it was sad that the person I sat next to told me that she always came on first night as the mistakes made the plays funnier.
I liked the sturdy and classy set, with its (intentionally) faulty and dangerous sash window.
I was also very impressed by the introduction – a video of a regional news item about the problems that local MP Richard Willey had been having of late followed by a witty filmed pastiche of the video which accompanied Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’.
Sadly, for me, the rest of the show didn’t live up to this encouraging start.
- : admin
- : 29/04/2015