Black Comedy – July 2014

Preview Performance

Experience: 7/10

By Peter Shaffer

Directed by Jamie Glover

(Paired with Miss Julie)

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Monday 7th July 2014

We stayed in the Minerva for the interval after Miss Julie to see the set being changed. There was a lot to do; they had to move from the kitchen of a country estate in 19th century Sweden to an impecunious artist’s flat in 1960s London in fifteen minutes. The existing set was cleared, with some of the back wall sections being turned around to provide additional wall parts for the new set. The biggest item they brought on was a large piece of construction which had the bedroom upstairs and a screened off studio area underneath; getting this into the right position took some time. With that placed correctly, the rest of the set could be sorted out, which involved placing lots of chairs, a patchwork of rugs, the stairs up to the bedroom and many paintings plus a tree-like sculpture. The door was in the same place as before, but that was the only similarity to the previous set which I could spot. There was also a telephone on the floor on the left side of the stage, a chaise centre back and a wooden block at the very front of the stage on which stood a brightly-coloured Buddha statue.

We gleaned from the pre-show talk we saw a few days later that Jonathan Church himself had suggested (and recorded) the pre-show phone announcement, which was very funny. It began with an old-fashioned ringtone, and the formal speech and posh voice made us laugh, which had been the intention; after the intensity of Miss Julie, it was important to let the audience know they could let their hair down.

Steve had commented that it was unfortunate that, being in the round, the set couldn’t be hidden from the audience before the start. However, we still enjoyed the opening section, listening hard to hear where the characters were as well as picking up all the important early information on the situation. I don’t know if anyone was surprised by the blackout, but we all seemed to handle it OK.

Brindsley, the artist, and his fiancée Carol were preparing for a couple of important visitors. One was her father, whom they wished to impress with Brindsley’s potential future earnings as an artist. The second visitor was a reclusive eccentric multi-millionaire Mr Bamberger, who had a passion for art. They hoped that Mr Bamberger would buy some of Brindsley’s work for vast sums of money, ensuring  Brindsley and Carol’s future happiness together.

With the opening strains of a Souza march blaring out from the record player (remember those?) the power suddenly went, causing that familiar running down of the music and a sudden change in the lighting department. The farce was developing nicely, and the first to arrive at this light-less, candle-less, match-less and torch-less flat was their elderly neighbour, Miss Furnival. With the two other important visitors scheduled to arrive at any moment, Brindsley went hunting for candles and/or matches while Carol spoke to the Electricity Board to arrange for their fuse to be fixed.

With an engineer on his way, Carol’s father arrived. Colonel Melkett was a strict military man who was not impressed by the lack of alternative light supplies; he soon ordered Brindsley to go to the nearest pub and get a torch. The Colonel, of course, had his cigarette lighter, but he didn’t want to use it all up. The soft glow it gave caused the lights to dim a bit, but we could still see what was going on.

The most important thing in farce is for something to go wrong, and the spanner was now ready to hit the fan! (Or whatever.) Instead of Mr Bamberger, the next arrival was another neighbour, Harold Gorringe, whose flat Brindsley and Carol had plundered to make Brindsley’s place look more acceptable to her father. To avoid Harold discovering that his valuable furnishings had been ‘borrowed’, Brindsley spent the next few minutes groping around in the dark to locate Harold’s antique chairs and taking them back to Harold’s flat across the way, replacing them with his own tatty seats. All the while Carol tried to keep everyone supplied with drinks, in the process treating Miss Furnival to her first (but not her last) alcoholic drink and causing a great deal of spluttering over the bitter lemon.

Their problems seemed to be over when the German millionaire arrived, especially as he had the foresight to always carry a torch with him. Unfortunately, not all of Harold’s furniture had been replaced, so the art-loving recluse was encouraged to ‘feel’ the tree-sculpture in the dark to get the best experience of its artistic qualities. When his true identity was revealed, they were back to square one, and the next arrival didn’t help matters. Apparently Brindsley hadn’t been entirely candid with Carol about his previous relationship; he claimed it was long over, but his ‘ex’, Clea, had a different idea. Arriving in total darkness, she became a mischievous little sprite who added to the fun enormously.

By the time the whole group finally realised she was there, things had deteriorated badly, and Brindsley was the centre of quite a storm. Harold knew of the theft of his priceless belongings, the Colonel and Carol knew the true situation about Brindsley and Clea, Miss Furnival was many sheets to the wind and Mr Bamberger took a dislike to having his accent mocked. As all this was going on, the fuse was fixed, the lights came back on, the Souza march started up again and carried on through our applause.

This was much more enjoyable than the first play, and certainly gave us plenty of laughs. The cast are still getting the hang of it, of course, and it will come on with more performances. I wasn’t always convinced that the characters were completely in the dark when they were meant to be, but they did a good job all the same. It’s a tricky play to pull off but they’ve managed to do it and I’m sure they’ll have good fun with it through the run.

© 2014 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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