by John Maddison Morton.

Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 25 June 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm &14 June 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 14 June 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min Two intervals.

TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 June.

Seriously and stylishly acted, Victorian farces come up a treat.
Even in his mid-Victorian heyday it’s doubtful John Maddison Morton, purveyor of farcical material to the London theatre, would have had them rolling in the aisles as much as at the Orange Tree. For most of the pieces he wrote in his long life (1811-1891), including material that lead to musical works by Sir Arthur Sullivan and John Philip Sousa, were one-acters, lasting, like these, between 30 and 45 minutes, used singly as aperitifs or desserts to substantial 19th-century theatrical evenings.

Henry Bell’s deftly-directed threesome exploit different farcical possibilities. First, and earliest (1841) comes one where action is all. Samson Slasher and Christopher Crasher love the daughters of militaristic Blowhard. Discovering one is a coward and the other – worse – a pacifist, Blowhard rejects them as suitors.

Crasher plans a feigned fight, but Slasher can’t keep to the plot, and their duel resembles the cowards’ contest between Twelfth Night’s Viola and Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

Centrally comes the latest of the trio. A Most Unwarrantable Intrusion (1870) starts with the kind of peace farce exists to upend, as Snozzle looks to a relaxing day, having packed off his womenfolk. Enter an Intruder, turning Snozzle’s world upside-down until the anecdotal piece reveals that, for all the interloper’s madness, yet there’s method in it.

After action and cumulative revelation, the final, 1861 piece exploits farce’s delight in multiple entries, as a humble wage-slave’s bedtime is disrupted by romantic and financial refugees. This is farce as quick escapes and near-miss encounters.

Colin Chambers adds a theatrical opening, using the device of plays concluding with appeals for audience applause, giving a unity to the variety here. And Daniel Cheyne cheers the audience with his plot-sketching songs and genial chat.

The playing’s immaculate throughout – even when apparent lapses arise, allowing an insight into Morton’s reliance on actors to elaborate certain moments. Jennifer Higham and Natalie Ogle dimple and manipulate to perfection, Clive Francis blusters astutely, Stuart Fox’s perplexity is exemplary, David Oakes is blithe innocence incarnate.

And Edward Bennett’s varieties of self-absorbed assertion are comic through utter seriousness. Having clowned so successfully, he ought to play Hamlet.

Slasher & Crasher:
Lt Brown: Edward Bennett.
John: Daniel Cheyne.
Crasher: Stuart Fox.
Blowhard: Clive Francis.
Rosa: Jennifer Higham.
Slasher: David Oakes.
Dinah: Natalie Ogle.

A Most Unwarrantable Intrusion:
Intruder: Edward Bennett.
Snoozle: Clive Francis.

Grimshaw, Bagshaw & Bradshaw:
Bradshaw: Edward Bennett.
Grimshaw: Stuart Fox.
Towzer: Clive Francis.
Emily: Jennifer Higham.
Bagshaw: David Oakes.
Fanny: Natalie Ogle.

Director: Henry Bell.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: John Harris.
Music: Daniel Cheyne.
Costume: Katy Mills.
Fight director: Chris Main.
Script editor: Colin Chambers.

2011-06-15 10:13:12

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