I seem to remember reading somewhere, many years ago, that comedy was abnormal folks in normal situations and farce was precisely the reverse. The folks were straight, the situation crazy. I can go along with that. Lazy beast that I am, I like my theatrical reference points. Certainly suits this one. John Chapman and Dave Freeman’s Key for Two had its fair share of normal people, even if an obsession with fish and eggs ranked almost as high as extra marital bonking. But playing away from home carries lots of baggage and the best farces pile on absurdities with devastating effect. You laugh your socks off and go home wondering what all the fuss was about. With this latest from Dunstable Rep I went home thinking these were actually quite nice people who had just got in a bit of a tangle. The socks stayed firmly on in mayhem more suggested than realised.
Trouble is in such situations you are never quite sure where to lay the blame. Honesty or ignorance compels me to say I don’t know if it was the script or production. I liked the set, good and solid suburban house, and I liked the ludicrous premise. When unwelcome wives intrude, pretend it is a nursing home. A rich seam for numerous visual and verbal jokes. Hardly thinking man’s theatre but should be very jolly. But some characters were shoe horned in from abroad for no serious narrative reason and drinking habits dominated throughout. If the cast had given it energy it may not have mattered but, nice as they were, they and their equally nice director (this is a blog so I am allowed to be personal) rarely injected even a smidgeon of quicksilver pace. And in farce that is just about as vital as thwarted sexual couplings.
Clare Tozer Roodt did a competent job as a woman who collected other people’s husbands to pay the bills. Nothing wrong with that, have you seen the price of gas? But skilled as it was, her Harriet never really left the page. Julie Foster, playing one of those shoe horned foils, had much more fun. As long lost friend Anne she too readily embraced the shenanigans but, in the second half, did a nice turn as a most inappropriate nurse. Alan Goss showed fine comic timing as a philandering husband slowly losing the plot and the use of his legs and Philip Davis, rich in Grimsby fish, gently delivered the unlikely second lover. But it was all a bit too predictable and it took the introduction of wives Magda, a delightfully confused Jenny Dean, and Mildred, the quintessential fishwife of Penny Scales, to give it a short and much needed lift. Barry Pain completed the septet as a drunken husband come vet and if he didn’t impress I blame the script rather than his performance. Drunks are a sod to play at the best of times. When you have no particular reason for being there it is even worse.
So I was seriously underwhelmed. I reckon it was because I was allowed to think too much, cue picking rarely fired, and in farce that is fatal. You should listen to the pictures not the words. And pictures were slow and words were heavy. Only my opinion of course and I shall give it a couple of stars because I reckon this cast were capable of better. Maybe, like snow covered cars on icy roads, I picked a slow night. Roy Hall