by Brandon Thomas.

Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 7 August 2010.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 31 July 4pm.
BSL Signed 6 August.
Runs 2hrt 30min Two intervals.

TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 July.

Precise delivery and farcical fantastication make for an enjoyable evening.
Britain’s Empire might have policed much of the world in the 1890s, but things were perilous when it came to the champagne. Brandon Thomas’s College scout Brassett seems to have much the same attitude to his employer’s wine as his coeval Lane, servant to The Importance of Being Earnest’s Algernon Moncrieff.

Brassett calls it a perquisite, neatly illustrating one aspect of a secure class-based society. As does the way the he ends up tipping-himself, being the only person around with ready money.

Yet champers is small change when the intoxication of chaste sexual delight comes into prospect. And it’s the delayed arrival of Charles Wykeham’s aunt as chaperone for the presence of two delightful, and proper, young ladies, that leads to English farce’s most famous drag-act.

Impecunious and attempting to help himself to any champagne Brassett has cautiously left, Lord Fancourt Babberley (not a name to have if you want to avoid complications in comedy) is inveigled into women’s weeds to impersonate the missing matriarch.

His person may not make an attractive prospect, but ‘her’ wealth certainly does for old Stephen Spettigue, one of the young ladies’ father. The other, Sir Francis Chesney, is much pleasanter and so avoids the farcical run-around Spettigue faces as Malcolm Rennie’s sour character trots with pasted smile in pursuit of a fortune.

Bringing decades of experience at the Exchange, director Braham Murray overcomes any problems an in-the-round staging might provide for the suddenness and directional acting inherent in farce, and manages to make a virtue of the form in several moments, aided by Johanna Bryant’s stylish cut-away, see-through sets.

And Oliver Gomm’s fine Fancourt-Babberley’s involved in several inventive routines, including both a reversal of the usual farcical business where people become suddenly divested of clothes as he torpedoes midair into his female attire, and an extended piano-playing sequence.

Always controlled, ranging from awkward male mannerisms under the feminine finery to the genuine sentiment when his one-time love arrives, Gomm’s Fanny-Babs is the far-from-still centre to a finely-judged cast, where Jack Farthing and Brodie Ross stand out as young university blades in a delightful revival.

Jack Chesney: Jack Farthing.
Brassett: Stephen Hudson.
Charles Wykeham: Brodie Ross.
Lord Fancourt Babberley: Oliver Gomm.
Kitty Verdun: Annabel Scholey.
Amy Spettigue: Sarah Ovens.
Sir Francis Chesney: Michael Elwyn.
Stephen Spettigue: Malcolm Rennie.
Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez: Briony McRoberts.
Ela Delahay: Elizabeth Crarer.

Director: Braham Murray.
Designer: Johanna Bryant.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Steven Brown.

2010-07-09 13:44:49

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