Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 28th June, 2016
Farce is an art from a bygone age and requires the skills of a sonneteer or a watchmaker to make it work as it should. Actor Ian Ogilvy turns playwright and director for this production of his new piece and, indeed, all the ingredients are there. People coming together in the same place for different reasons, misunderstandings, reversals, absurd events – Andy Newell’s set has the requisite number of exits and entrances to facilitate the action…
We are in a villa in Marbella. Middle-class couple Brian and Susan Flowers are taking a break from their funeral direction business and have ‘swapped’ their Wimbledon home for something more exotic. Brother-in-law Jeremy is also along for the ride. Not long after their arrival they find themselves plunged into a nightmare of corpses and confusion. The owner, now in their house in South London, is a Costa del Sol mobster and his rivals from Torremolinos are out to get him…
It’s not long before a dead body is falling out of a cupboard and we’re off! A well-worn device of a telephone call for exposition dominates the opening scene, cranking the comic tension right up. The cast maintain a high level of hysterical sarcasm throughout – Ogilvy directs with an assured hand – there is just the odd moment when the action or pacing needs sharpening.
David Callister is superbly annoying as the nasally verbose undertaker Brian, while Freya Copeland is suitably fed up and scathing as long-suffering wife Susan. Patric Kearns has a hint of Matt Berry in his Jeremy, and Louisa Lytton’s Coral, the gangster’s moll, is delightfully dim. David Janson makes a welcome appearance as mobster Paul and there are some enjoyable cameo performances from Michael Kirk, Davies Palmer and Alan Mehdizadeh as a range of characters. The latter’s Harry the Hammer is hilarious and menacing at the same time. You don’t want villains to be too villainous in farce – just enough to motivate the others to taking action.
On the whole, it all ticks along very well. Apart from a couple of references to the internet, it could have been written forty years ago – and that’s not a criticism. Ogilvy has risen to the challenge and has pulled it off. It’s a pleasure to see things being set up, pieces falling into place, and paying off. The final absurdity is a masterstroke, both fitting and surprising, and among the machinations of the plot there are some genuinely funny, original jokes.
Performed with comic intensity by a committed company, Swap! is a satisfyingly silly, cleverly constructed and funny farce, with a body count higher than your average murder mystery! It’s just the tonic in this period of economic and political uncertainty.
A right good, old-school laugh.