by John Chapman.
Theatre by the Lake Lakeside CA12 5DJ In rep to 9 November 2012.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 017687 74411.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 July.
Well-executed farce whose time hasn’t come again.
There’ll be laughter by the Lake this summer… Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy Bedroom Farce having set the boat rocking, while artistic director Ian Forrest delves into the world of Whitehall Farce with John Chapman’s 1954 Dry Rot.
It’s hardly Forrest’s fault if the laughter doesn’t peal abundantly on Rot nights. Nor can designer Martin Johns be faulted, with a sturdy set, including the necessary balcony, Tudorbethan architecture and a secret panel. With not a bedroom in sight – just as Chapman doesn’t resort to the Whitehall staples of male trousers disappearing along with most of the underwear belonging to any young female.
The production’s amazingly well-cast from actors for whom farce is hardly a career staple, and each playing two other shows at Keswick. Stephen Aintree’s Colonel Wagstaff, proprietor of an ailing hotel, is a perfect, explosive bumbler. As his wife Nicky Goldie is a fount of enduring sense, making her eventual signs of physical pleasure the funnier, while their delightful daughter is dutifully presented by Zöe Mills, once she’s overcome a tendency to be slightly too bouncily happy.
George Banks as the innocent young man caught up in a criminal conspiracy is tactfully pleasant, knowing decency and romance, not hilarity, is the job of such roles. That’s left to the horse-racing conspirators, led by James Duke’s Alfred Tubbe. Or not Tubbe – an evident fake, his attempts at a high-class accent repeatedly producing evidence of irritable vowel syndrome and smiling rictus.
Trotting through the plot with him are untrustworthy interloper Flash Harry (Nicholas Goode, every parent’s nightmare of a loud-dressed Teddy Boy) and repeated victim Fred, whom Chris Hannon plays with comic would-be-wiseguy dimness.
Why, then, is it amusing rather than hilarious? The blackouts might have been snappier, and perhaps the villains slowed the pace, to give free rein to comic detail.
Or, maybe audiences have changed. As the fifties music between scenes indicates, there’s no ‘period’ sense of farce for the time, unlike the Wodehouse-redolent interwar Aldwych farces, or the belle époque France of Feydeau and his fellows. Anyway, it’s easy to believe this is as good as it will get.
Colonel Wagstaff: Stephen Aintree.
John Danby: George Banks.
Alfred Tubbe: James Duke.
Beth: Jessica Ellis.
Mrs Wagstaff: Nicky Goldie.
Flash Harry: Nicholas Goode.
Fred Phipps: Chris Hannon.
Polignac: Adrian Metcalfe.
Susan Wagstaff: Zöe Mills.
Sergeant Fire: Louise Yates.
Director: Ian Forrest.
Designer/Costume: Martin Johns.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound: Maura Guthrie.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Fight director: Peter Macqueen.