By John Chapman
Directed by Keith Myers
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Wednesday 17th October 2012
This is an old Whitehall farce involving a small country house hotel and a race-fixing plan. Despite the best efforts of the cast and a willing audience, we felt this touring production didn’t quite sparkle – not so much a decent handicapper, more of a selling plater. Steve thought a few of the cast weren’t quite right for the parts they played and the timing needed to be slicker, but there was still a lot of laughter from the half-full auditorium and there’s always the question in my mind of how well this sort of humour lasts; I’d have to see a top-notch production to be sure.
The set showed the reception area of the hotel, with French windows to the left, the main entrance beside them, dog leg stairs to the upper level beside the door with wooden panelling underneath, and a door and bar area to the right of the stage with the kitchen door in front of that. A radio stood on a table beside the French windows, there was a couch along from that and a table with two chairs stood in front of the bar area. There was also a bell positioned front right beside the kitchen door which refused to work as a bell but when kicked it opened a secret door in the panelling under the stairs, a fact discovered by the gang involved in race fixing but unknown to the owners of the hotel.
The owners were Colonel Wagstaff and his wife, and their daughter was also living with them. They had bought the hotel as a retirement home which would give Mrs Wagstaff something to do, but after six months they still hadn’t entertained any guests. They did have the ‘help’ of Beth, the retarded maid who spoke in a ‘comical’ West Country accent, slouched and broke a lot of things. The plot was under starters’ orders as soon as Beth produced a letter which she’d forgotten to hand over the day before and it turned out to be their first booking. The Wagstaffs assumed that ‘next Tuesday’ meant next week, but when you know farces….. The unexpected knock on the front door came soon after, and they’re off!
The plot is too convoluted to note up in detail, but involved substituting a doped ringer for the French favourite, The Cardinal. When that plan dropped out of contention, the fortunate coincidence which brought The Cardinal’s jockey to the same hotel suggested another option to the gang. There was a hidden passage to add to the fun, and with lots of night-time prowling going on the police were called in. As a result there was a strange police woman on the premises for much of the second half, as well as the diminutive French jockey. The Wagstaff’s daughter Susan was attracted to the young secretary, John Danby, who had been employed by Mr Tubbs, the gang leader, as camouflage, and so we had a little romance going on as well. Frankly, all it needed was a vicar running through the room at some point and we’ve have had a clean sweep.
I thought the cast looked uncomfortable during the curtain calls, though we were appreciative enough. Neil Stacy and Liza Goddard are always dependable and they did well enough in their roles as the Wagstaffs; their conversation about the non-existence of a piano was one of the highlights of the evening for me. Steve Blakeley as Fred, the hapless dogsbody of Mr Tubbs, did the comic business very well, and I liked the Gallic gesturing of Michael Keane as the jockey who spoke not a word of English. The two ingénues were played by newcomers Evelyn Adams and Mark Martin and were OK, and the rest of the cast did their best without distinguishing themselves. I did find the radio commentary of the race was very hard to hear, even when the radio was working, and overall the performance was enjoyable without being memorable.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me