Director: Bob Eaton
Reviewer: Michael Gray
It is a Hazardous business, farce. Overdoing the physical stuff in technical rehearsal, Sean Needham does his leg in and is prescribed total rest. Which, for an actor, translates as playing the part, but with the aid of a walking stick.
Though we may have lost some of the more frantic moves, the pace certainly doesn’t suffer in Ray Cooney’s classic from the late 70s. (Not to be confused with the ill-advised film flop of 2012.)
They were different times back then. Well before political correctness kicked in, when “fairy”, “pansy” and “nancy” could be spoken without irony and Mary Whitehouse was still a force to be reckoned with. But, as the youngsters in the front stalls should be aware, this is just as valid a period piece as any Restoration comedy. And that’s how it’s treated in this tremendously enjoyable revival at the Queen’s. Mark Walters’ costumes are firmly in the flares and kipper-tie period, with Dan de Cruz’s DS Troughton a reasonable ringer for George Best in his prime. The set, also by Walters, is a triumph in brown and orange, cleverly using perspective and high ceilings to suggest the two flats in one, with a double picture frame in the centre the final flourish.
For this tale of bigamy is told with a structural device that Ayckbourn would be proud of – John Smith’s two lives are superimposed, doubling the potential for comings and goings, chaos and confusion.
As the two-timing taxi driver, Needham neatly conveys the desperation of the serial liar, hobbling convincingly around his two love nests. As his well-meaning, feckless neighbour, Cut to the Chase stalwart Simon Jessop is a joy to watch, as circumstances compel him to animal husbandry and the love that dares not speak its name. There’s a very dated camp stereotype living upstairs, straight out of the bona world of Julian and Sandy (amusingly done for what it’s worth by Elliot Harper) and the two wives, barely distinguishable, are played with style, glamour and mounting hysteria by Barbara Hockaday and Sarah Mahony. “Pussy” Porterhouse, the other policeman, is an increasingly bewildered James Earl Adair, brewing tea in his fancy pinny as the chickens come home to roost.
It’s a hectic whirl of alleged nuns, so-called transvestites, little white lies and panicky telephone calls. All in the best possible taste, though; “bloody hell” and “silly cow” the strongest the language gets. Those were the days.
Bob Eaton’s production is fast-paced, perfectly timed, and a salutary reminder of those glorious farces which survive today mostly in the pastiche garb of Habeas Corpus and Noises Off.