4th May 2018
I have been musing on my two loves of theatre and horseracing this week. Well, the horses anyway seeing as it is the Newmarket Guineas Meeting. Those classy three year old colts and fillies strutting their stuff on a big stage after months wrapped up in winter cotton wool. If you were lucky a few of them would have had a pipe opener somewhere in the proceeding weeks. Well in a way, tortuous analogy slowly coming to the point, that is what I have done. Other than cavorting various boards in sundry murder mysteries, great fun, thespian activities have been pretty thin on the ground. No scribing for months. I wish to change that with a sharpened pen for Wheathampstead’s Dangerous Corner at the end of the month. A favourite play by a favourite author. So popping down to the Redbourn Players for Ray Cooney’s Funny Money was my equivalent of an early season spin on the gallops. Even knackered old geldings have to get out sometime.
Ray Cooney is a master of farcical comedy. They may not tick all my theatrical boxes but even this misery will admit that done well, frenetic pace anchored to inner truthfulness, they will invoke involuntary chuckles. As long as real characters increasingly notch up ludicrous inner desperation, along the way making you laugh rather than think, they can be and are a great success. Funny Money has all the necessary ingredients. Switched briefcases, £750,000 in one and a cheese sandwich in the other, switched characters from compliant neighbours, an irate and quirky taxi driver, and two rather unusual rain coated detectives. All conspire with a nondescript accountant desperate for Barcelona and a nervy wife desperate for the bottle to create mayhem in a little bit of London suburbia. Cooney territory writ large. All it needed was Brian Rix both dropping in and dropping trousers to complete the happy picture.
If the picture in my mind was not matched by the portrayal on stage it was, nevertheless, an enjoyable evening. Redbourn are a small company but they created a nice bit of living room suburbia with lots of pleasing doors and an impressive realistic staircase. And in that suburbia we got a convincing minor accountant from Andy Turner’s Henry Perkins, bluster and opportunism equally displayed, and a nervy, alcoholic dependent, Jean Perkins from Lucy Goodchild. These two central players did a pretty good job. Personally I would have liked a little bit more panic and quiet desperation from Mr Turner to flesh out his lines but, in fairness, he never bored. And Ms Goodchild, in the best performance of the evening, suggested by her wavering voice and uncharacteristic reach for the bottle, the long suffering and anonymous housewife behind many a suburban door. When a man, even a dreary accountant, seizes an opportunity, his woman seizes some other support.
Of the other characters Maureen Wallis and Jordan Davis were an ill matched pair as the neighbourly and complicit Johnsons, stronger direction needed in ensemble scenes, and Euan Howell and Hilary Violentano two of the strangest detectives I have seen this side of Wormwood Scrubs. I would not trust either of them with my parking ticket appeal, let alone a quest for a dodgy £750,000. Mr Howell, thin and rain coated and with a fetching little tache, had clearly blown in from some 1950’s bleak filmic murder mystery, and Ms Violentano’s DS Slater suggested nothing more than a homely June Whitfield. I quite liked her performance and if she had baked us a cake, so in keeping with her persona, I would have liked her even better. If my opinion on these motley subsidiary characters to the Perkins household is pretty firm the fifth one had me in more theatrical opinions than you could shake the proverbial stick at. No one on stage delivered lines better than Benita Gilliam’s quirky taxi driver. With her jaunty Joe Orton hat and manly clothes she suggested nothing less than Theatre Workshop’s Joan Littlewood. I suspect this was intentional. But a performance that displayed considerable skill was marred by over physicality. In other words the bloody woman never stood still when delivering those lines. I would have directed it out of her because, undoubtedly, Ms Gilliam can act.
But overall not a bad evening. A new director, David Howell, will learn as I hope I did, that sharper pace and more truthful characterisation will yield even more positive results. For instance the unseemly, blanket covered, sofa shenanigans should have been a highlight of the comedy but underdeveloped characters devoid of the essential innocent manic drive induced merely mild amusement and the thought of missed opportunity. Farce has its own internal logic. Miss it, even by an inch, and it falls flat on its face. Bit like my fancy for the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. But I still enjoyed the race and, overall, I enjoyed my evening out to this one. As the art mistress said to the gardener, I may not be blind to your faults but I thank you for the pleasure. Horses at Newmarket or theatre in Redbourn. All matter. All gratefully received. And pen readily sharpened for Wheathampstead.