Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 5th February, 2019
This production is the world premiere of a brand-new farce, written by Jack Milner and Mark Stevenson. Certainly, many of the key ingredients are here: heightened situations, people talking at cross-purposes – the protagonist even gets his trousers off in the first couple of minutes! And yes, it is very funny but, as it turns out, this farce is more than frothy entertainment. Like the titular dish, there are meaty bits to chew on…
Nick Hancock is tightly wound insurance consultant Seymour Norse, preparing for a video call with Gillian Bevan’s formidable CEO, Virginia Whale. Having a character on-screen brings this conventional format up-to-date, and there is a lot of mileage in what Virginia is permitted to see and hear, thanks to the ministrations of hapless, arthritic burglar, Marvin Haynes (Paul Bradley on excellent form). Add to the mix, Carolyn Backhouse as Gloria, Seymour’s histrionic actress wife, and The Bill’s Eric Richard as menacing underworld boss, Alan, and the stage is set for a fraught dinner party, full of misunderstandings and cracking one-liners – all while trying not to stress out Terry, the burglar’s pet octopus. Hancock and Bradley make a fine duo, and Backhouse is a scream as the egotistical Gloria. Eric Richard has a strong presence, on the other side of the law for once, and Gillian Bevan is both glamorous and haughty. As the plot extends its tentacles, pulling everyone into a scam that could be worth billions, it’s every person for themselves.
It’s in the second act that the show’s message comes to the fore. Milner and Stevenson use a dated, conventional format to speak to us of the present. “What the world needs now is brains not bullets” is just the start of it. Parallels are drawn between insurance CEO Virginia and organised crime boss Alan: capitalism is criminal activity, or certainly immoral and unethical, legal though it may be. Seymour finally gets to deliver his presentation, a plea for the rehabilitation of the financial sector the world so desperately needs.
Played with energy and conviction by all concerned, this is a hugely enjoyable piece of work, and you get the feeling that things are tightening up as the run gets into its stride. Pacing is everything in farcical situations and director Joe Harmston clearly has an eye for comic business and another for building tension.
Like Terry the octopus, this show has legs…