Friday, 3 July 2015

Out Of Order, Hutton Players, Brentwood Theatre, Brentwood

This would not be an honest review if I didn't mention that I was absolutely dreading seeing again Ray Cooney's umpteenth crude farce, which takes every opportunity to mangle an unbelievable plot. Flaunts the most unsubtle of double entendres imaginable to man (or woman). Even the names of certain characters don't escape the Cooney "magic" touch.
Having experienced it once I really had no inclination to experience it yet again, but "critique oblige" so I took a deep breath, approaching it with hope in my heart.
It was thanks to June Fitzgerald's imaginative direction, excellent ensemble work by the cast, plus the teamwork involved in the spot-on timing of a recalcitrant window refusing to obey orders, that the audience was almost constantly laughing heartily. Even I had a lot of laughs generated by the cast, not the script.
The action opened in Suite 648 of the Westminster Hotel, London within striking distance of Big Ben and the Division Lobbies, where we enjoyed a preview scene of speeded-up mime display reminiscent of a Benny Hill chase as the cast dashed around setting the scene.
Then things really got going as William Wells's thoroughly guilty, married MP set about ordering champagne and oysters for his naughty secretary Jane Worthington played by Romy Brooks. Hardly was she through one of the many doors a good farce needs, than she had disrobed into a mindbogglingly revealing, see-through outfit. This didn't leave very much to the imagination. As one gentleman remarked afterwards he felt "quite refreshed" by this sight.
The sight, however, which discombobulated our "hero" Mr Willey most was that of Justin Cartledge's dead Body stuck halfway through the aforementioned recalcitrant window. Panicking, Willey sent for his Parliamentary Private Secretary in the shape of Gary Ball's naive George Pigden. He then was tasked with body disposal, placating David Lintin's dour hotel manager, while paying off the blackmailing Waiter superbly played by Richard Spong. Richard certainly made an ongoing impact with this role.
Liz Calnan also made the most of her stereotypical non-English speaking, immigrant Maid role by constantly interrupting with simple pleasing smile, offering to make the beds.
Yet more complications followed as circumstances conspired to threaten Willey with public exposure of his marital infidelity. First the Body regained consciousness; or what passed for it, following probable Class A or alcohol intake,as he struggled to remain awake, giving Justin plenty of opportunities for hilarious physical comedy; then Ben Martins as Jane Worthington's muscular and outraged husband turned up all too keen for vengeance; followed by Lindsey Crutchett's nice Mrs Willey who just wanted to surprise her husband, whose excuse for not going home was a late Parliamentary Division and finally Susie Faulkner as a nurse. Just don't ask!
The pace got faster and more furious in this BOGOFF production, in which we had not simply one naked actor but two, both of whom very discreetly yet cheekily exited dropping towels behind them.
 One of the secrets of playing great farce (regardless of the quality of the script) is to believe utterly in what you are doing and the more serious you are about it, the funnier it becomes for the audience.
Director June Fitzgerald asked for and was blessed with this prized quality and a great ensemble spirit from her cast. This included the highly professional manner in which William Wells, blaming anything and everything but himself for his self-imposed woes, while he and Gary Ball's hopeful yet hopeless PPS  worked so easily together batting the lines back and forth at speed. A pleasure to watch. 
This approach cascaded down to Romy Brooks' secretary flaunting her body; the staggering about Body played by Justin Cartledge causing great hilarity; and so forth and so on - impeccable team work. Pace and energy just got faster and faster as the show went on.
Despite the wobbling of some of the flats and the choice of dreadful matt brown paint on doors, plus the lack of a backcloth showing the Houses of Parliament, this production was
excellent entertainment.
Guy Lee ran lighting and sound, Paul Sparrowham designed the programme but there was no mention of a stage manager. When I asked why this was so it turned out that the tech side had been affected by illness so all the cast had taken responsibility for the perfect timing of the window's performance and all other stage management needs.
By the way, if you are looking for another Ray Cooney farce try It Runs In The Family. Set in a teaching hospital a consultant finds out more than he hoped for about unexpected research results.
Mary Redman
July 3 2015 with apologies for the the delay

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