SEE HOW THEY RUN
Derby Theatre, Monday 7th April, 2014
“There are no small parts, only small actors.” That cliché refers to mentality rather than stature. Massive star Warwick Davies knows there are lots of small, as in short, actors who are not getting the chance to display their talents outside of Snow White pantomimes and Gringott’s bank. Davies set up the Reduced Height theatre company to provide just that chance and their first production, Philip King’s 1944 farce gets them off to a running start.
The play is old-fashioned but wearing well. Directed by the legendary Eric Potts, the emphasis is on getting as many laughs as possible from the material.
Davies is Reverend Lionel Tapp and shows a nice line in comic reactions, spit takes and double takes, and is ably supported by his troupe of character actors. Rachel Denning swans around as the vicar’s glamorous wife; Francesca Papagno is an absolute hoot as local frump and busybody Miss Skillon who gets pissed as a fart and stowed in a cupboard. Phil Holden is great fun as actor-turned-soldier Clive, and Jon Key is suitably indignant as scandalised as fuddy-duddy bishop Uncle Dudley.
It’s all played in a heightened (so to speak) style with larger-than-life characterisations. There’s lots and lots of running around, some of it gratuitous, in this tale of disguise and mistaken identity. Raymond Griffiths adds a touch of menace as an escaped POW with a cod German accent, Jamie John brings camp and confusion as a visiting vicar, but the stand-out of the night is Francesca Mills as Ida, the cheeky maid, all gorblimey and eye-rolling, complete with a Barbara Windsor cackle.
It’s fast paced – it has to be or it would die on its arse – and gloriously silly fun, good-natured and refreshingly uncynical in its contrivances. Eric Potts works his players hard, piling on the comic business, making use of their physicality without mockery. There is something extra funny in seeing their little legs run, and it’s funny in another sense how their lack of height adds a dimension to the comedy.
I hope they’ll tackle a straight drama next. This production takes giant strides away from the notion of short actors as novelty acts.