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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Menier Chocolate Factory


  (L to R) Jean Fergusson, Ray Cooney, Josefina Gabrielle and Michael Pread/ Ph: Catherine Ashmore

There is a view in Britain that you have to be a killjoy to dislike British farce. Another view is that any joy that depends on pratfalls and puns, the falling down of trousers and the kind of sex-obsessed humour that is so broad Benny Hill might have rejected it on grounds of vulgarity, deserves to be killed. I tend to agree with the latter view. However, something happened during this revival of Ray Cooney's 1984 Thatcher-era romp that made the penny drop. Perhaps it had something to do with the presence of an incredibly limber 81-year-old Cooney, who, not satisfied with the writing and directing credits, also plays the role of an incompetent waiter. 

The setting is a Westminster hotel in which politicians from both sides of the House are staying. Conservative MP Richard Willey – a name that when spoken can induce British people to snigger because versions of both names can, at a stretch, be used as slang for "penis" – persuades his political advisor to book an extra room so that he can start an affair. The only available room is next door to Willey's, where he is staying with his wife. Julie Godfrey's set cleverly exploits this happy coincidence by sliding back and forth as the madcap action requires. This results in a brief moment of sublime surrealism among all the silliness when a doorframe follows Michael Praed's Willey down a hotel corridor.

And then it happened, Willey's reluctant fixer George Pigden (Nick Wilton) finds himself half-naked in Willey's bedroom with Willey's wife (Josefina Gabrielle) while pretending to be a doctor and the gay lover of a suicidal tea boy. And it is here that the evening builds to a critical mass of alibis and door-slamming evasions, the comedy that bludgeons you into laughter. And submit you do. Even reluctantly.


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