21st April: On this day in 753BC Romulus and Remus founded Rome; in 1926AD was born our beloved Queen and in 1949 Broadway star Patti LuPone made her debut in the world.
And on some unspecified 21st April between then and now, Andrew was born.
Now Phil – having passed many, many more anniversaries than Andrew – is wise enough to know that one should enjoy oneself on one’s birthday.
But Andrew – a slow learner if ever there were one – bizarrely chose to celebrate the passage of his time towards inevitable death with yet another trip to the theatre. To see a preview of the frothy farce – Rookery Nook, to be precise.The trouble is, that now the Menier Chocolate Factory has got into its stride with the notion of printing numbers on the tickets and stapling corresponding numbers to the seats the Whingers feel honour bound to patronise every show in order to encourage the management to continue the practice in perpetuity.
And this production has some “form” as they apparently say in racing circles. First, it’s directed by Terry Johnson who delivered the eventually first class La Cage Aux Folles. Second, it features Mark Hadfield – one of the very few male members of the acting profession to have been acknowledged twice by the Whingers (here and here). Third, it also boasts the woman who played Nurse Gladys Emanuel in that classic Ronnie Barker sitcom about a man with a speech impediment. Fourth, it features WEW fave Sarah Woodward.
And as they took their seats the set (by Tim Shortall) looked very promising too.
So anyway, this is the 1926 Ben Travers farce about… well, about the things that farces are usually about – hapless men caught in compromising positions with scantily clad women in a general milieux of overbearing wives, downtrodden husbands and insolent domestic staff. It’s not important.
Written in three acts, this production has one interval after the first act and to be fair if they hadn’t broken they might have got away with it but the first act is mainly set-up and never really felt as though it got into gear before it was time to go back to the bar.
Phil thought the cat and dog gags were overdone, and not particularly funny in the first place. In fact, he was ready to leave at the interval and found himself chatting to some others who felt the same.
Thankfully others in the Whingers’ party were more mindful of the fact that this was Andrew’s day and attempted to inject some positivity into the conversation.
But having been persuaded that the second, longer act might achieve some sort of pace Phil was persuaded to return. Fortunately it did pick up, but only intermittently. Still, Phil managed to laugh a few times, particularly at the golf-club-down-trousers schtick and a very funny turn by Victoria Yeates as the local flag seller who’s no better than she ought to be.
One of the problems is that the set is just too darn wide, letterboxed for the Menier stage the cast rush from side to side, taking too long to get across to any of the many doors necessary for farce. There is of course an awful lot of rushing but the pace is still too slow. Shout “last orders” in front of the Whingers and you’ll really find out what pace means.
The Whingers had no problems with the cast (and particularly liked Hadfield, Edward Baker-Duly who played Ashley in Gone With The Wind – The Musical! and Neil Stuke who is to play CJ in in the surely ill-advised remake of The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin) nor really with the direction nor any other element. It’s just that…
Phil, of course, is spoiled: he saw the famous Tom Courtney/Peggy Mount/Nicola McAuliffe/Ian Ogilvy/Lionel Jeffries revival back in 1982 and he hadn’t even enjoyed that. Perhaps he just doesn’t like farce. He’s all for a bit of silly-twittery (just read the WEW for proof) but Rookery Nook creaked like the Whingers’ ancient joints.
Andrew, on the other hand, had been bought so many birthday drinks that he didn’t give two hoots about anything.