OUT OF ORDER
New Alexandra Theatre, Friday 14th April, 2017
Ray Cooney directs this new production of his 1990 farce, complete with bang up-to-date topical references. These give the play the illusion of happening right now but the structure and genre of the piece root it firmly in the past. And this is no bad thing – we don’t sneer at those who can still crank out a perfect sonnet; likewise, the well-made farce is an art form that few can pull off. Cooney is a master.
The set-up is Tory MP (of course) Richard Willey (tonight played by stand-in Geoff Harmer) has rented a suite at the Westminster Hotel in which to entertain the secretary of the Leader of the Opposition. The couple’s illicit fun is interrupted before it can begin by the discovery of a dead body trapped by a faulty sash window. Willey enlists his PPS, George Pigden (Shaun Williamson) to assist. Add to the mix the secretary’s enraged husband, a snooty hotel manager who tends to walk in at the least opportune moments, and an opportunistic waiter and the stage is set for fast-moving action and an increasingly complicated situation. The laughs keep coming via verbal humour, physical comedy and dramatic irony – we delight in the misunderstandings and their convoluted consequences.
The energised ensemble play the comedy to the hilt. Susie Amy, mostly in a state of undress, plays panic to perfection. Arthur Bostrom simmers haughtily as the manager; James Holmes relishes his role as the colluding, mercenary waiter; Jules Brown brings menace and howling vulnerability as the rampaging husband; Elizabeth Elvin amuses as Nurse Foster; Sue Holderness brings a touch of class as Willey’s wife. The entire cast proves its skills – the pace doesn’t let down for a second – but it is Williamson who is the biggest jewel in this star-studded crown. His pained expression and increasing confusion and exasperation are expertly portrayed. The timing is spot on – his desperate puppetry with the corpse (David Warwick being dead good!) is a scream.
The mechanics of the plot and the performance are in perfect working order. The funniest couple of hours I’ve spent at the theatre for a long time, the play reminds us of the lengths MPs will go to, the lies they will spin, to cover their own tracks. It made me long for simpler times when all we had to worry about from that lot was their sleazy, personal affairs. Now, what Willey hoped to do to Ms Worthington is what the government is doing to the whole country – and that isn’t funny.