THE key to a good farce is to follow Brian Rix’s advice – always have at least one cast member drop his trousers while the rest lose the plot and generally create as much mayhem as possible.
Pandamonium duly broke out within minutes of the hysterical See How They Run opening at The Grove on Monday and by the finale the audience were tittering with merriment – and that wasn’t from interval lubrication.
Philip King’s comedy is getting on in years. First performed in 1942 (and set during that period) it nonetheless stands the test of time – and not many shows can say that.
It could have offered up gags and situations that were as vintage as its pedigree. Instead we were treated to a talented cast delivering a genuinally funny show that was well acted and well received.
We were pitched into a country vicarage during the war. Innocent village parson (imagine, if you’re old enough a Derek Nimmo type – but without the stutter) Lional Toop has, for his sins, somehow ended up married to glamorous actress Penelope whose uncle is a bishop.
While he is out one night a former acting chum, Clive Winton, drops by and the pair decide to go out to see a show. Unfortunately Lance-Corporal Winton is under curfew so to get around it he borrows Lionel’s spare vestments and the pair sneak out.
Before long the number of clerics on stage has multiplied faster than those infamous loaves and fishes.
An escaped German soldier ambushes a returning Lionel and steals his clothes, then a visiting vicar drops by and, amid the madness, there’s Pen’s baffled and bemused uncle (played by Allo Allo’s Arthur Bostrom).
There’s a running joke throughout that sees various cast members spending time either unconscious or tossed in a closet (allowing for some wonderful slapstick) and some top performances from the entire cast.
The Bill’s Lucy Speed didn’t spend much time on stage (she was a regular habitue of the closet) but she made the most of her lines as an inebriated spinster (she played an old battleaxe with conviction considering the poor girl is only 35) wringing laughs a plenty from the audience.
Veteran stage and screen star Sebastian Abineri (as army Sergeant Towers) gave a bristling cameo while Rachel Donovan, as the maid Ida, had everyone in stitches as she did her best to conceal the goings-on among the characters.
David Partridge’s Clive was full of confidence and charm both when playing an actor or an actor playing a vicar.
It was a hoot from start to finish and let’s hope that The Original Theatre Company, who also staged Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night the following evening with the same cast, can be encouraged to return.