SEE HOW THEY RUN!
by Philip King.
Theatre By The Lake Lakeside CA12 5DJ In rep to 9 November 2013.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 October.
Laughter triumphs by the Lake.
A late-season return to Keswick, following an earlier tour of duty focusing on the more serious side of the 1913 summer repertory, was largely motivated by wishing to see Abigail Anderson’s revival of Philip King’s forties farce. It’s a superior piece which must have delighted audiences as they emerged from wartime, and somehow keeps its period charm without seeming dated.
Perhaps it’s the uniforms – multiple vicars, alongside soldiers and police. Plus free-spirited women: Ida the maid, protected by country innocence from dull subservience, or local vicar’s wife Penelope with a past on the stage, countered by the respectability of being a bishop’s daughter.
First heard singing show-tunes offstage, Penelope’s free spirit soars when an old acting partner arrives with the army. A replay of the fight scene from Noel Coward’s Private Lives sets off two subsequent hilarious acts.
Anderson’s previous productions have possessed a detail and freshness that have worked wonders in drama and comedy. But farce is a fleet-footed genre that comes clomping down to earth if not skilfully handled. Word round the theatre had spoken of a director who knew her mind but gave the actors scope for invention.
It makes for two delightful hours, full of inventive detail that always seems utterly logical and which never clogs the action or compromises the characters. Penelope’s eventual account of events to the assembled characters leads to a repeat of the Coward fight, crowned by her sense that the crazy shebang has been as natural as daylight.
Farcical action ticks speedily along, the famous chase full of variety, a strategically-placed armchair allowing for variants from effortless leaping to effortful clambering by characters delightfully preoccupied with the chase so they never stop to think why they’re all running round in circles. It’s the human condition set to hilarity.
In a fine, committed cast Maggie O’Brien provides Miss Skillen with a technical finesse and reality, investing the joyless spinster stereotype with human depth, without lessening the jokes at her expense. But it’s in the ensemble overall, skills honed over the several months of performance, that Anderson reigns supreme in this King revival.
Jens: Benjamin Askew.
Bishop: Roger Delves-Broughton.
Rev Arthur Humphrey: Richard Earl.
Clive: Richard Galazka.
Rev Lionel Toop: Ben Ingles.
Sergeant Towers: Peter Macqueen.
Ida: Sophie Melville.
Miss Skillon: Maggie O’Brien.
Penelope: Heather Saunders.
Director: Abigail Anderson.
Designer/Costume: Martin Johns.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound: Andrew J Lindsay.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Fight director: Peter Macqueen.