by Ben Travers adapted by Clive Francis.
Park Theatre (Park 200) Clifton Terrace Finsbury Park N4 3JP To 22 September 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7870 6876.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 31 August.
Thark at the Park. What a lark!
Leading writer of Aldwych Farces between the wars, Ben Travers knew precisely how such laughter-machines work. And how to suggest sex without mentioning it, as his later-life return to the form in the sexually franker 1970s with The Bed Before Yesterday contrastingly showed (there are hints here; for all Lucy May Barker’s lower-orders trepidation, Travers didn’t call her character Buck by accident).
A concurrent Bath revival of Georges Feydeau’s A Little Hotel on the Side, (from 1894, a third of a century before Thark) shows French farce being about seeking sex outside a frustrating marriage; English examples involved men yearning after their one true love, or living in fear of the true love they’d married years before.
Young women of the decent sort, like Claire Cartwright’s Kitty, have a formidable gentleness, her hygienic love expecting young Ronny’s absolute fidelity, while Mary Keegan’s commanding Lady Benbow needs only brief intrusions to keep her husband in order.
Director Eleanor Rhode, following repeated triumphs at the Finborough Theatre in recent years, soon has the motor of Travers’ fare purring smoothly along. The stress (in all senses) is on the men. Far from running a country, these well-placed males can barely run around in circles.
Clive Francis is expectedly expert at fluster, bluster, passing the buck and double-takes, while James Dutton gives a master-class in surprise, confusion and well-intentioned simplicity, never more comic than when reaching for details of some evasion to account for events.
Rhode also shows you can still get the staff, be it Sarah-Jayne Butler’s self-effacing parlourmaid Warner, John Wark as multi-tasking manservant Hook, or Andrew Jarvis (multiple murderer in a number of leading Shakespeare productions over the years) as lugubrious butler Jones in the title house, where – as the ably-played tenants, the Frushes, have been complaining – there are nocturnal hauntings, climaxing the laughter begun in the more normal accommodation of the earlier acts.
Cherry Truluck’s set doesn’t remove the belief farce is written to be seen head-on, but goes a fair way, with Rhode’s direction, to accommodate the Park 200’s three-sided auditorium, in a show that should fill every seat.
Hook: John Wark.
Warner: Sarah-Jayne Butler.
Cherry Buck: Lucy May Barker.
Lionel Frush: Richard Beanland.
Sir Hector Benbow: Clive Francis.
Ronny Gamble: James Dutton.
Lady Benbow: Mary Keegan.
Kitty Stratton: Claire Cartwright.
Mrs Frush: Joanna Wake
Jones: Andrew Jarvis.
Director: Eleanor Rhode.
Designer: Cherry Truluck.
Lighting: Gary Bowman.
Sound/Composer: George Dennis.
Costume: Holly Rose Henshaw.
Magic consultant: John Bulleid.