THEATRE BY THE LAKE: Keswick: BO 017687 74411
In repertory to 24 October 2001
Runs: 2 hours 40 minutes. One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 June 2001

Well-crafted sixties successes still have laugh potential.

A few years back a London production had the wit to combine these two light works by heavyweight dramatists of the sixties (both, of course, still at work). Shaffer came up brighter than Stoppard. Up in the Lake District, it’s the other way round .Hound takes the stage first. Just as Shaffer’s brother-playwright Anthony was to put the boot into the old West End thriller in Sleuth, Stoppard parodied the thriller’s stilted dialogue and characters. Only, such a job’s hardly enough to keep Stoppard awake over a hot keyboard so he added a couple of stereotype theatre critics, the academic and the all-for-fun Moon and Birdboot. Then, the critics become implicated in the stage action.

Director Stefan Escreet neatly updates the opening, with Moon warned by an usher to switch off his mobile. The action still proves comic, thanks to a measure of reticence – it’s vital the characters never let on they’re in a jolly romp, and the cast manage this well.

Shaffer ‘s piece is based on an old Chinese play where the actors, in full light, play characters in the dark. The original was set in an inn, the characters trying to kill each other, the excitement lying in the near-miss swordplay. Shaffer makes the fight that of climbing the mesh of smart-art sixties society.

An impoverished couple seek to impress her father and an art collector by ‘borrowing’ their neighbour’s antique furniture. The light’s fuse. The father hates his daughter’s fiancee. The neighbour returns. Another neighbour grows drunk. All this as we watch in blazing floodlights the central characters groping around to replace the furniture next door. It’s all fun, but somehow doesn’t blaze as bright as it might. The trick’s in the precision of near-miss moves and character points. Here, it’s close, but not quite pulled off.

2001-07-25 17:47:08

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